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Senate approves bill to require seat belts on school buses

Senate Bill 693 cleared the chamber in a 25-6 vote following strong pushback from one Republican who argued seat belts make buses less safe.

Eanes ISD school bus mechanic Chase Roberts washes the dirt off the advertising on buses in West Lake Hills, Texas, on Feb. 14, 2012.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed legislation requiring three-point seat belts be installed on newly purchased school buses across the state. 

Senate Bill 693, authored by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, cleared the chamber in a 25-6 vote following strong pushback from one Republican who suggested seat belts make buses less safe.

“Seat belts save lives,” Garcia said on the floor.

The Legislature passed similar legislation — called Ashley and Alicia’s law — in 2007. But the requirements were contingent on funding, and the law left school districts to decide whether to apply for state money earmarked for the effort. Virtually no school districts applied, according to a Houston Public Media report, leaving buses across Texas belt-less.   

Garcia’s bill would require seat belts on all buses purchased in 2017 or later and would not allow schools to opt out.

Fifty-five people died on school buses between 2003 and 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and two children — neither wearing seat belts — died in 2015 when a crash sent a Houston school bus plummeting from an overpass. A crash this month in Lumberton, outside of Beaumont, sent 23 fourth-graders to the hospital, but no one died. That bus had seat belts. 

Garcia's bill passed over the strong objections of Sen. Bob Hall, R-Rockwell, who called it an unfunded mandate and said seat belts, while effective in cars, protect bus riders only in a "limited number of direct head-on crashes at high speed.”

Hall suggested that seat belts could trap kids trying to evacuate a bus following a crash. 

“Do we really want to raise the risk level of children in school buses that just sounds good and feels good, and has unintended consequences?” Hall asked. "We will actually be harming, killing more children than we would save."

Garcia shrugged off that criticism and cited a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assessment that said “school buses should have three-point seat belts. Period.”

A House companion to Garcia's bill is scheduled for a committee hearing on Thursday. 

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Public education State government 85th Legislative Session Department of Public Safety Education Texas Legislature