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School bus safety bill passes committee

Brian Powers - bpowers@perutribune.com

An Indiana Senate bill focusing on more severe punishments for driver who ignore school bus stop safety precautions was unanimously passed by the Senate committee yesterday, and the bill’s origins have strong ties to Miami County.

The bill, called Indiana Senate bill 2, was authored by Sen. Randy Head, who represents Cass, Fulton, Miami and portions of Carroll, Kosciusko and Marshall counties.

Head announced the introduction of the bill on Jan. 8 as a response to the October killing of three Fulton County siblings as they were preparing to board a school bus.

According to Head’s bill, the penalties would increase from a Class A infraction to a Class C misdemeanor for a driver who fails to stop when a stop arm is extended, but also increases the severity of violations, including increasing a penalty from a Class A misdemeanor to a Level 6 felony, should a driver recklessly pass a stopped bus with safety equipment enabled and causes injury.

Senate bill 2 was sponsored by Miami County State Representative Ethan Manning, who also authored a similar bill in the State House before sponsoring Head’s bill.

Manning’s original bill, House Bill 1079, was similar to Head’s, including the same punishments.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I author or sponsor the bill, just as long as something is done about it,” Manning said.

Manning said that there have been 3,000 documented school bus safety infractions in just one day, and that’s unacceptable to him.

“We have hundreds of thousands of incidents happening around the state,” he said.

The Miami County native and freshman State Representative said that Head’s bill will also require school corporations to evaluate their bus routes annually, as well as force bus drivers to pick up students on the right side in order to avoid forcing the kids to cross lanes of incoming traffic.

Manning said there are some exceptions to the right side rule – especially in smaller rural schools, but the main focus is on student safety and cracking down on stop arm violations.

“If you hit a child, it’s going to be a felony,” Manning said.

After passing the committee unanimously, the bill will now face the full Senate.