A proposed bill that passed the Texas Senate on Wednesday would require school districts in Texas to purchase new school buses with three-point seat belts.
Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-6) who filed the legislation, which is now headed to the House, said multiple school bus accidents in Texas have been fatal or caused injuries that could have been prevented if they had three-point seat belts.
"The goal of this legislation is to protect children, prevent injuries, and demonstrate that the State of Texas is serious about the safety of school children," Sen. Garcia said.
Waco ISD and Killeen ISD both have lap belts in their special education buses. However, they don't have seat belts in the rest of their buses.
Waco ISD Area Assistant Superintendent Rick Harley said the district would buy new buses with seat belts if the law requires it. However, he said the buses are safe without them.
"Our efforts for student safety have actually been in a different direction because the safety of the buses compared to other vehicles on the road buses are considerably safer, 7 times safer. Where more accidents have occurred is when students are off the bus," Hartley said.
Hartley said they have spent funds getting a stop arm for the front of the bus to improve safety for students.
Hartley estimates that a bus with seat belts will cost $8,000 more than a bus without them.
School districts can opt out of getting the seat belts, if the board of trustees determines it cannot afford it and votes on that measure in a public meeting.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature allocated $10 million in grants to help pay school districts for the incremental cost of buying new buses with three-point seat belts. Four districts received a total of $416,582 in grants, including Austin, Pettus, South Texas and Dallas County Schools.
Texas Education Agency Spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said the agency received 12 applications, which would be considered low. She said the low amount of applications may be due to the funds not being able to be applied to getting new school buses or not being able to retrofit old buses.
TEA said the funds were returned to the general fund and after that year, the legislature has not allocated funds for installing three-point seat belts on buses.
The proposed legislation does not include funding for adding the seat belts. The school districts would have to pay for the additional cost of purchasing those buses.
A companion bill, HB 1188, will be heard in committee on Thursday.
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