Lawmakers successfully pushed forward a bill that would allow Illinois school districts to use cameras on school buses to catch stop-arm violators. SB0923 passed the state Senate, according to the Illinois General Assembly website.
The bill states that the bus must have its stop sign extended and lights flashing to alert motorists that students are getting on or off the bus. If motorists are captured on camera illegally passing a stopped school bus, they could be fined $150 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. However, it would not be considered a moving violation, which brings a driver's license suspension of up to three months.
While opponents questioned the high fines and constitutionality of the cameras, the measure by Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago) gained a clear majority (36-12) and now moves to the Illinois House.
"This is a safety mechanism," Munoz told colleagues. "This would hopefully be a deterrent for someone going around the school bus."
Several states have increased penalties for motorists who violate school bus stop laws in recent years, often in response local tragedies as with Kadyn's Law in Iowa and Nathan's Law in Mississipi. Every year a half-dozen students, on average, are hit and killed by motorists who violate school bus stop laws.
Under Munoz's proposal, school districts would have the authority to partner with cities and counties in equipping school buses with the cameras, which would photograph vehicles and their license plate numbers if they fail to halt for a school bus with an extended stop arm.
One supporter is lobbyist Al Ronan, who represents Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 and was a fund-raiser for impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Another Ronan client is RedSpeed Illinois, which sells red-light cameras and has previously pushed legislation that allowed for the use of its product.
Yet an opponent, State Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington) pointed to the cameras' unpopularity in Chicago and Ronan's involvement in pushing the legislation. He also mentioned a Chicago Tribune report on a federal bribery investigation into Chicago's red-light camera program and a rival red-light camera supplier, Redflex Traffic Systems — a probe Duffy referred to as the "largest scandal in Illinois history."
"It's the same camera company and the same camera lobbyists associated with Gov. Blagojevich and other scandals who's promoting this bill," said Duffy, a frequent critic of red-light cameras.
Munoz shot back that Duffy doesn't like red-light cameras because he was caught making an illegal turn in 2010, and this video footage was then used to dramatize the need to allow red-light camera enforcement in Illinois.
Legislative records show that neither RedSpeed nor Redflex testified in favor of Munoz's bill in Senate committee.