NASHVILLE - Two Hamilton County lawmakers said Tuesday they will introduce legislation requiring all Tennessee school buses to be equipped with seat belts in the wake of Monday's deadly crash.
Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said the legislation is needed in a state that has no such requirement.
McCormick said his intent is to require all current and new buses to be retrofitted for three-point seat belts.
States with mandatory school seat belt laws include California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York. Texas requires seat belts on school buses purchased after 2010.
"It's time to have that conversation" about Tennessee school bus safety, including seat belt requirements, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday.
"We had a wreck last year in Knoxville with a school bus, last week in Nashville, and obviously, the tragedy in Chattanooga," Haslam told. "I think it's time to have all the parties come to the table and have a thoughtful conversation about what can we do to make our school buses as safe as we can."
Tennessee's individual local school districts are in charge of buses and bus safety, either operating buses themselves or by contracting with individual drivers or companies.
Most buses don't have seat belts, and school authorities and operators have been resistant to changes in state law requiring them to do so, citing enormous expenses.
A bill requiring new buses to be equipped with seat belts languished in the 2015-2016 General Assembly despite the Knoxville school bus tragedy.
But McCormick said he believes a measure can pass during the new 110th General Assembly that starts Jan. 10.
"I don't want to point fingers who was against it because of the expenses," McCormick said. "I'm sure it will be expensive. But this is an area where the state should certainly step in and help with the expenses and not [make local systems] shoulder the entire burden."
The lawmaker added: "It's unfortunate it took a tragedy like this to focus attention on it, but sometimes that's what it takes to wake people up."
Favors, the House Democratic minority whip, said she would introduce legislation to require seat belts in school buses when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
She, too, noted a school bus seat belt bill was proposed in response to a December 2014 Knoxville school bus crash that killed two students and a teacher's aide. The bill was shipped off for summer legislative study in 2015.
It went nowhere in 2016, despite being restricted to only purchases of new school buses and extending the implementation date.
A fiscal analysis on the bill estimated that requiring buses purchased after July 1, 2016, be equipped with safety restraint systems approved by the National Transportation Safety Board would cost the state $5.53 million a year, or $49.77 million through Fiscal Year 2024-2025.
Local districts' collective expenses would increase by $33.18 million a year or a total of $265.48 million from FY 2015/2016 through FY 2022-2023, according to Fiscal Review Committee analysts.
An investigation of the 2014 Knoxville crash revealed the bus driver was texting while driving when that accident occurred. Lawmakers did enact a law toughening sanctions on school bus drivers who text while driving.
McCormick said that with booming state surpluses during the last fiscal year, the state can afford a one-time expenditure for current bus fleets maintained by local school districts. And there should be money going forward as well to require new buses to have the safety features, he said.
"If you have the money, I can't think of a better place to put it for our children going to and from school," McCormick said.
He said he has reached out to other members of Hamilton County's legislative delegation and believes they'll be supportive.
McCormick said he can't say with certainty whether seat belts would have helped in the Chattanooga crash.
"I don't know. But sometimes you have to look at common sense," he said. "If the bus is rolling over, rather than having bodies flying, it would make better sense to have them strapped in. It's the same concept you have in a car. I think common sense tells us it would help more often than not."
Because the crash occurred in the Woodmore section of Favors' district, McCormick said he has reached out to the Chattanooga Democrat and offered to let her carry the bill and pledged to stand with her in pushing it through House committees.
The issue of school bus seat belts has long been debated at the state and national levels. Federal officials in years past have taken the position that bus seating provided adequate protection.
But last year, Dr. Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, swung forcefully to the view that seat belts would help.
"The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow bus," Rosekind told a conference in November 2015. "And saving lives is what we are about.
"So NHTSA's policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt," he added. "NHTSA will seek to use all the tools at our disposal to help achieve that goal, and today I want to launch a nationwide effort to get us there."
Favors, meanwhile, said the entire Chattanooga community is in "a state of shock after this horrific accident."
She said she rushed to the scene Monday afternoon after Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger called to inform her of the crash. She praised the response by police officers, emergency teams, Interim Superintendent Dr. Kirk Kelly, school workers and clergy.
"It is difficult to put into words how heartbreaking the scene was," Favors said.
Favors added: "The children who were on the bus and their classmates will have a long and difficult road to understand and comprehend this loss of life.
"We ask for prayers for the victims, their loved ones, and all the residents of our tight-knit community. I know that we will respond as we always do when terrible things happen in Chattanooga: with love, compassion and caring."
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com.
Woodmore Elementary school bus crash
- Community holds vigil to honor victims of fatal Woodmore school bus crash [photos]
- One year later: Have school buses gotten safer since the Woodmore crash?
- The legislation: Advocates hope to pass school bus seat belt bill in 2018
- The neighbors: Talley Road residents recount details of deadly crash
- Cooper: Woodmore bus crash offered lessons, realities
- A year of grief: Mother recalls tragic day she lost her daughter
- The first responders: Paramedics, police officers recall scene of crash [photos]
- Lawsuit: Woodmore employees say bus company responsible for emotional trauma
- Two more lawsuits point to negligence in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Three more civil claims filed in Woodmore crash case
- Bus coalition says Durham drivers want to share safety concerns
- American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee honors local heroes
- Hamilton County 911 receives award for response to Woodmore crash
- School bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash released from jail after making bond
- Trial date set for driver in fatal Woodmore Elementary School bus crash
- Lawsuit: Mother of child who died in Woodmore bus crash was tricked into legal agreement
- Bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash placed on supervised release
- State attorneys receive new information in Woodmore solicitation case
- Chattanooga firefighters recognized with 'Governor's Certificate' for Woodmore response
- Judge denies alternative sentence request for bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash
- Attorney: Second vehicle involved in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Court date delayed for bus driver charged in Woodmore case
- Victim's mom posts court documents on Facebook, complicating trial in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Woodmore bus driver faces additional charges after prosecutors pledge to bring more counts
- Prosecutors plan to bring more charges against Woodmore bus driver
- Attorney says Woodmore bus driver should get alternative sentence
- Texas firm denies any solicitation of Woodmore victims
- Woodmore families protest after school board renews bus company contract [photos]
- Out-of-town jurors will decide Johnthony Walker's fate in Woodmore bus crash trial
- Tennessee AG files lawsuit against Texas firm accused of deceiving Woodmore families
- Child Services confirms agency has been investigating Woodmore bus driver
- Woodmore: Johnthony Walker's attorney wants out-of-town jury
- Judge rules Woodmore attorneys can ask for pre-accident info from bus company
- Twelfth civil lawsuit filed in Woodmore bus crash
- New Woodmore lawsuit takes aim at predatory law firms
- New lawsuit accuses law firms of preying on Woodmore victims
- Two more lawsuits filed in connection to fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Law enforcement to follow, randomly ride in Hamilton County school buses in wake of fatal crash
- NTSB report recounts events leading up to fatal Woodmore school bus crash
- Woodmore Fund completes distribution of more than $500,000 in gifts from community to families
- Woodmore responders recount crash nightmare
- Woodmore bus crash: Can county turn back clock on bus privatization?
- Despite Woodmore crash, Hamilton County likely will extend contract with same bus company
- Tennessee's attorney general vows to take on any law firms that exploit the Woodmore crash victims
- Driver in fatal Woodmore school bus crash had previous accidents, infractions in personnel file
- Lawsuit filed against Hamilton County Schools in connection with fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Industry experts warn of predatory law firms in wake of Woodmore bus tragedy
- Woodmore Fund releases video appeal for relief funds ahead of holidays
- Last 2 Woodmore patients released from Erlanger to rehab facility [video]
- Sixth Woodmore bus crash lawsuit targets bus manufacturer]
- Two Woodmore bus crash victims still in Erlanger Children's Hospital
- Woodmore Fund begins to help families affected by fatal bus crash in Chattanooga
- Fourth and fifth lawsuits filed in Woodmore bus crash
- Remaining hospitalized children in Woodmore bus accident in fair condition
- Third lawsuit says bus crash causes child to suffer disfigurement, brain injury
- Durham claims it wasn't aware of all complaints against driver in deadly bus crash [photos]
- Chattanooga school bus driver refuses to speak with investigators in fatal crash probe
- School bus company addresses driver complaints prior to fatal bus crash, promises change [video]
- Second family files negligence lawsuit in connection with deadly bus crash
- Hearing for bus driver in Woodmore crash delayed
- School bus strikes pedestrian in Brainerd one week after deadly Woodmore crash
- Three Woodmore students still in critical condition; 5 total remain hospitalized
- No kids were on school bus that hit pedestrian on Brainerd Road
- Man allegedly using Woodmore victims to scam people for money
- Zyaira Mateen, 6: The girl who loved to read and dance
- D'myunn Brown: Six-year-old remembered as smart, funny
- Zyanna Harris, 10: Girl had energy and spunk
- Cor'Dayja Jones, 9: Fourth-grader was sweet and shy
- Keonte Wilson, 8: Rambunctious boy was youngest of four
- Zoie Nash, 9: She was cheerful and laid-back
- In the wake of the fatal bus crash, Chattanooga stands strong
- Cook: The Hallelujahs of Woodmore Strong
- Tennessee law caps damages for Woodmore victims, families
- Bus driver in fatal crash told school employee 'he did not care about the students,' school records show
- Family of bus crash survivor finds much to be grateful for
- Community gives $112,000 to families of children killed in bus crash
- Parents say they warned district employees before crash that bus driver drove too fast and was reckless
- Life-saving stability control mandatory in new cars but not required for school buses [video]
- A sixth child in Woodmore bus crash has died
- NTSB says Talley Road not on designated route for bus in fatal crash
- First lawsuit filed in connection with Monday's fatal bus crash
- Local agencies launch fund for families of school bus crash victims
- Brainerd crash: New details emerge on history of driver, bus company
- Families mourn Woodmore Elementary students killed in school bus crash
- Tragedy leaves many area first responders emotionally scarred
- Local lawmakers favor push for mandatory seat belts on school buses
- Community gathers at prayer vigil for victims of fatal school bus accident
- Neighbors recount moments following Monday's fatal crash, say driver had reputation for speeding
- Johnthony Walker crashed bus months before fatal accident
- A nation reacts to Monday's school bus crash tragedy
- McCormick to push bill requiring all Tennessee school buses have seat belts
- Haslam says 'time to have that conversation' about school bus safety
- Neighbors of the bus driver charged with vehicular homicide said he was 'just an ordinary guy'
- School bus service provider had 346 crashes in last two years, records show'
- Families identify all five children killed in bus crash
- Community rallies to support Woodmore families
- Blood Assurance needs O-negative blood donations
- School bus driver in fatal accident graduated from Brainerd
- 6 students in ICU after school bus driver charged in crash that killed Woodmore Elementary students
- Erlanger doctors say kids dazed, couldn't spell names on arrival
- Officials report multiple fatalities in school bus crash on Talley Road