A bill that regulates school bus capacity has passed through the House of Delegates, a first for newly appointed Del. Dana Jones, a Democrat from Annapolis. The bill now heads to the Senate.
House Bill 87 aims at the state’s transportation code and would require that school buses be routed so that the number of people on the bus never exceeds the manufacturer’s set capacity. If there is an emergency that requires that limit to be exceeded, the bill would require that the extra people be removed within a reasonable amount of time. The House of Delegates approved the bill Thursday with a 133 to 2 vote in approval.
“We can’t pack children on the bus. We can’t encourage them to sit on laps, and we can’t encourage them to sit on the floor,” Jones said. “This is a common-sense piece of legislation.”
Crowded buses were found to be a problem in Anne Arundel County in a 2019 report from the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits, and this bill to address the safety concern was first introduced in the 2020 legislative session.
But the bill is likely to face opposition in the Senate. The cross-filed version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Annapolis, was defeated in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee when six of 11 members voted for an unfavorable report. The discussion was summed up by Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll Counties, who said it seemed more appropriately suited for a county council or local school board.
“You don’t legislate common sense,” Hough said during the voting session. “You could pass a bill that says you shouldn’t put too many kids on a bus, yeah, duh, but if we start down that road, we’re going to be passing bills for everything.”
Jones’ predecessor, former Del. Alice Cain, D-Annapolis, introduced the bill last year before the session was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill had passed the House of Delegates unanimously and had just crossed over to the Senate.
Jones picked up where Cain left off by introducing it as her very first piece of legislation this session.
She was nominated by the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee and appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in April after Cain resigned unexpectedly due to family circumstances.
Jones is joined by Dels. Heather Bagnall, D-Arnold, Sandy Bartlett, D-Maryland City, Shaneka Henson, D-Annapolis and Jessica Feldmark, D-Baltimore and Howard Counties.
The bill has supportive testimony from the Annapolis Education Commission, Start School Later Maryland and from Joanna Bach Tobin, who sits on the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.