Advocates for a new safe student protection program that has been years in the making received a nod from the full Senate to advance SB22-085, also known as Anna’s Law in remembrance of an 11-year-old student who was run over and killed by her own school bus last month.
The Child Safety Network (CSN) joined the parents of Annaliese Backner in making the plea to legislators that they increase the amount of an annual grant program created by SB 22-085 that was introduced in January by Sen. Don Coram.
Coram was joined by Sen. James Coleman on April 6 in submitting an amendment to the state budget, which is running a reported 20 percent surplus over last year’s amount. The Senate approved $5.5 million in year one to begin implementing an array of school bus improvements, including a parental notification app to alert when a school bus is arriving or is late to pick up students.
Leber said the bill also requires the app to be of use to all parents regardless of the method the student uses to arrive at school. “In particular, it must provide age-appropriate expert advice and free parenting resources to help parents raise safer healthier children,” he added.
Telling School Transportation News that funding “is the hardest part of getting any bill into law,” Leber said the next step would be for the Senate to vote on the bill itself before it could advance to the House.
Leandra Backner, Anna’s mother, expressed her gratitude to Coram, Coleman and the other senators who voted for last week’s amendment.
“It means that my daughter’s death will not be in vain. It means that my sweet Annaliese will be part of a plan to protect all students in Colorado, so that no parent has to go through the pain and loss that we are experiencing now and for years to come,” she shared. “Thank you, senators, for restoring my faith in the priorities of our state’s leadership. If Anna were here today, she would want to hug you all and thank you for helping her friends get to school and home safely every day. God Bless you for protecting our children.”
Coram’s legislation would also add silent alarms and crash detectors on school buses to alert first responders of its exact location. “FDIC-insured banks have silent alarms, but not our school buses,” according to a CSN statement. “It’s time to change that oversight.”
Anna’s Law would launch a statewide campaign targeting motorists that illegally pass stopped school buses, train all school bus drivers on the Transportation Security Administration’s First Observer Plus program, provide advanced driver training to include transporting children with special needs, and implement a “No Bullies On Board” campaign. Participation in both the TSA Training and advanced driver training courses include certifications and are not mandatory.
Funds from the bill must also be used to develop effective methods of reducing the school bus driver shortage.
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In all, the bill asks for $13.5 million over three years. If Anna’s Law passes the Senate and House and is signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, the initial $5.5 million would go toward implementing the technology on buses across the state. Less funding would be needed the following two years, Leber added, because much of the technology would already be installed and corporate sponsorship secured by CSN would start to offset other expenses.
Meanwhile, CSN added Coleman as a recipient of the 2022 Colorado Safe Student Protection Award. Coram and legislation co-sponsors Reps. Barbara McLachlan and Marc Catlin, and Senate Education Chair Rachel Zenzinger were honored in February during the Colorado Association of School Boards Winter Legislative Conference.