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Benson, Swain & Tully Continue to Improve School Bus Rider Safety: Bill Allowing Termination & Debarment of Bus Contractors Clears Assembly Panel

Taking another step toward ensuring greater protections for student rider safety, a bill enabling school bus contracts to be terminated if companies allow drivers to transport students with suspended or revoked credentials was released Thursday by the Assembly Transportation Committee. The measure is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Lisa Swain and Chris Tully, all of which have sponsored multiple bills over the last year bolstering school bus safety.

The legislation (A-4574) was prompted by a incident last September where a school bus driver hit five cars, two traffic poles and a fire hydrant in the cities of East Orange and Orange. A 9-year-old child and a bus aide were on the bus at the time of the crashes. The bus driver’s license was suspended at the time of the crash. He also had a summons for driving with a suspended license and reckless driving.

The company the driver, who was charged with driving under the influence worked for, A1 Elegant Tours secured $1.58 million in contracts even though the company had several infractions for lack of cameras on buses, drivers without commercial licenses and no aides, as reported by the Paterson Times.

“The safety of New Jersey’s students on school buses should remain a top priority for the state, for school districts, and for the bus companies we enter into a contract with,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Those who provide transportation for our students must be held accountable, and the consequences must be severe when they endanger our children.”

Specifically, the bill provides that any contract for the transportation of students that is entered into or renewed by an agency, school district, board of education, or nonpublic school will include a provision that requires the termination of the contract if the school bus contractor:

(1) Knowingly allows an individual to operate a school bus more than 24 hours after the school bus contractor has received notice that the individual commercial license has been suspended or revoked; and

(2) Knowingly allows any other unauthorized individual to operate a school bus who does not have a valid commercial driver license, passenger endorsement or school bus endorsement.

“Bus companies that are awarded school transportation contracts must repay the faith placed in them by putting student safety first and guaranteeing that their drivers are properly trained and monitored,” said Swain (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It is unconscionable for unsafe drivers to be put in charge of our children.”

“Our priority is to address student safety reforms that have been overlooked for far too long,” said Tully (D-Bergen, Passaic). “This common sense legislation holds companies accountable for the quality of their drivers and allows school districts to terminate any contract that doesn’t meet the necessary standards to protect our children.”

The measure also permits the Commissioner of Education to temporarily bar the contractor whose contract has been terminated for a period of 120 days from entering into student transportation contracts. This would be reserved for repeated violations, except that the commissioner may bar a school bus contractor under this section if a singular violation is particularly egregious. The commissioner will adopt rules and regulations for the process of debarment and appeal.

The Assembly Speaker will now consider the measure for a floor vote.