Saturday, August 18, 2018

Florida Senate advances bill to provide more school bus rides

Hoping to prevent accidents and injuries, the Florida Senate Education Committee on Monday moved forward a bill to redefine which students qualify for school bus rides.

The legislation (SB 188) would change the distance from school that makes children eligible for a ride to 1.5 miles from the current 2 miles. It would alter the guidelines for setting hazardous walking routes to four lanes or wider, from the current six lanes, and to 45 mph or faster from the current 50 mph.

It also would provide bus rides to students under those conditions in all grade levels. Current law calls for busing for children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Committee members said they supported the concept. They had concerns, however, about the expense of adding more routes.

A staff analysis indicated that changing the rules could cost the state $58 million and local districts $100 million. Already, several school districts including Hillsborough have scaled back "courtesy" bus rides that the state does not pay for, because of financial concerns.

A lobbyist for the Polk County school district told the committee her district opposed the legislation.

"Conceptually, it's fantastic," said Sen. Gary Farmer, a Broward County Democrat. "We just don't want to see other programs suffer."

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, an Indian River County Republican, voted for the bill in committee but warned that, without a sufficient appropriation, she might change her position if the bill makes it to the Senate floor.

Sponsor Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota County Republican, said he would work with others to look for funding. He acknowledged the effort might take more than the current year.

He added, though, that he would keep fighting for these changes.

"I don't think there's a better use of taxpayer dollars than to make sure our students are safe," Steube said.

The bill still has two more Senate committee stops. Its House companion (HB 1299) has passed through one of its three committees of reference.

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