Federal lawmakers defeated an amendment brought by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-TX) to remove a provision from the House transportation appropriations bill that would have allowed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to increase the minimum insurance levels required of commercial fleets.
The provision to increase the levels protected by Section 134 of the FY 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations was included in a report out of a House committee on May 13 and survived two attempts to strike it in committee. But a Republican majority won out during a floor vote on Thursday that struck it down by a margin of 247-176. Only nine Republicans voted for the increase while 18 Democrats voted against it.
On Friday, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) thanked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) for leading the charge in protecting the current insurance limits. But the work is not yet complete.
"The National School Transportation Association looks forward to supporting this bill through to final passage in the House, and will then turn its attention to the Senate where we will work to have the same provision included," said Tim Flood, president of the NSTA.
NSTA and the United Motorcoach Association were among the organizations that opposed the Cartwright Amendment to allow FMCSA to raise the limits. NSTA argued that raising the current limit of $5 million to as high as $21 million for school buses that carry 16 or more passengers was a "significant and unjustified increase" that would negatively affect the ability of companies to continue providing safe and efficient transportation services. Further, NSTA said federal crash data shows that the school bus safety makes any insurance unfair to private carrier companies.
"School buses are the safest form of transportation available and any increase in federal minimum insurance requirements without data showing such an increase to be necessary would be harmful to all children who rely on school bus transportation and to our industry," added NSTA Executive Director Ronna Weber.
Meanwhile, the amendment would have also increased insurance limits for school buses with 15 passengers or less beyond the current rate of $1.5 million per vehicle.
Weber thanked members Thursday night for contacting their local representatives over the last several days to help swing the vote. UMA sponsored a similar letter writing campaign. The issue was also a main topic for both organizations when they hosted events in Washington, D.C., in April to meet with legislators as well as federal government agencies.