New bus seatbelt law in effect, but not effective
HOUSTON In 2006, there was a school charter bus accident that changed state law. A Beaumont girls' soccer team was on board when their bus collided with a truck and rolled over. Two girls were killed. Grieving parents demanded that buses be equipped with seat and shoulder belts. The legislature agreed and the governor signed the new rule on paper was to take effect Wednesday. But in reality, it isn't. "That's too bad. They should be in all the buses. They should install them," said grandparent Fran Shull. Here's the catch. The regulation affects only new school bus purchases after Wednesday. It doesn't require retro-fitting of existing school bus fleets. And then there's the money. What began as $10 million in Texas Education Agency funding to help with the seat belt upgrades to new buses was cut by the agency to only $3.6 million. HISD has 1,000 buses, including some purchased in the last year or so. The district's transportation department says seat belts adds $7,500 per bus, and although the new law requires seat belts on any newly purchased buses, there's a catch according to HISD. "That pending funding from the TEA that school districts might receive some funding, but it doesn't say anything other than that. So it's an unfunded mandate," Paul Youngjohn with HISD Transportation Services. Only a couple of school districts statewide chose to require seat belts on buses on their own. Beaumont is one of them. Locally, most of those we contacted aren't planning to get new buses because of monetary concerns. But for parents who strap in their children in their own cars, letting them board a bus without a seat belt is a problem. "I think it's really unsafe without having a seatbelt on. They should be been having seatbelts on buses," said parent Terrance Pippin. Charter buses that are used to transport school children must be equipped with seat belts by September 1 of next year. HISD transports 40,000 students every day on more than 1,000 buses. It's the largest single district bus fleet in the state.