Rep. Favors pulls mandatory school bus seat belts bill off notice for year

Tennessee state Rep. JoAnne Favors visited the Times Free Press for a meeting with the editorial board at the newspaper's offices on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Chattanooga.

NASHVILLE - Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, on Thursday pulled her mandatory school bus seat belt legislation from further consideration this year.

"I didn't feel like I had enough support in full committee," Favors said of the Finance Committee. "I felt like I could get it out of the subcommittee. But with all the other bills that are there, I didn't think I would have enough time to really focus on them and explain and answer all the questions."

She said the bill will remain parked in the Finance Subcommittee until next year when she will resume her fight, spurred by the Nov. 21 bus crash in Brainerd that killed six children and injured dozens more.

Her bill, which has faced criticism over cost and effectiveness, had been placed with a number of bills "behind the budget," meaning House and Senate Finance Committees will consider them only after the state's annual spending plan gets passed.

The $37.1 billion budget bill, meanwhile, was left in limbo Thursday afternoon in the House after a group of Republicans and many minority Democrats, aggrieved over GOP leadership's treatment of them, successfully ambushed it with several amendments.

One of the amendments, offered up by Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, provided the first year's funding for Favors' bill.

Stewart said the bill was dead. Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, said the budget provided money for a study on the use of bus seat belts. The amendment failed.

Favors said she didn't participate in the rebellion which threw the House into chaos at times.

House Finance Subcommittee Chairman Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who co-sponsored Favors' bill, said the bill isn't dead and the $4,400 for the study was included in the budget in the event Favors wanted that.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has the Senate companion bill and thought he might get it through.

The bus driver, Johnthony Walker, has been indicted on six counts of vehicular homicide and other charges in the crash of the Woodmore Elementary School bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the crash and is expected to issue a report.

Favors' bill began by mandating all public and private school buses in Tennessee have NTSB-recommended safety restraint systems by mid-2023. The original fiscal analysis estimated the state's costs of doing that at $58.7 million and local governments' share at $423.4 million.

She amended the bill to a requirement that school buses ordered or purchased as of July 1, 2019, carry the restraints. It set no deadline, her idea being the estimated 600 buses purchased annually would take care of the issue over a longer period of time.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.