Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law on Thursday legislation that will require all school districts to purchase new school buses equipped with lap-shoulder seat belts as of this coming Sept. 1.
The bipartisan SB 693 passed the Texas House on May 19. In addition to model-year 2017 school buses, the law also applies to newly purchased multifunction school activity buses and school-chartered buses.
Last month, Texas Association for Pupil Transportation spokeswoman Marisa Weisinger told STN that many school districts will take advantage of a provision that opts out of the requirement based on lack of funds to pay any incremental costs for the three-point restraints added to the new purchase price of school buses.
School boards can only receive a waiver if they hold a public meeting and pass a resolution that states insufficient funds as the reason.
TAPT recommended occupant restraints in 2015 to all school districts making new school bus purchases but not retrofitting current buses. TAPT also supports local school district decisions to implement lap-shoulder belts when funding is available, recommends training programs for the proper use of the seat belts, disciplinary programs for students who don't wear them and proper student evacuation procedures.
SB 693 also removes previous language from existing state law passed in 2007 that required the occupant restraints on school buses by Sept. 1, 2010 as long as the legislature appropriated the neccessary funding each year to reimburse districts. That never happened, making the current state law voluntary. It did appropriate a one-time grant of $10 million to initially fund district purchases, but the Texas Education Agency reduced that amount by more than two-thirds following an order by then Gov. Rick Perry to cut the budget of all state agencies by 5 percent.
But only a dozen school districts applied for the money and TEA ended up awarding only about $416,000.