In Brief

Electric school bus bill sparks debate during N.J. Assembly session

By: - May 27, 2022 3:40 pm

Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Monmouth) speaks during a debate Thursday on an electric school bus bill. (Courtesy of the NJ Assembly GOP)

Republican and Democratic lawmakers clashed in the Assembly Thursday over a GOP assemblywoman’s push to derail discussion of a bill championed by environmentalists.

The measure (A1282) would require the Department of Environmental Protection to implement a program replacing diesel school buses with electric buses over three years at as many as 18 school districts, at an annual cost of $15 million.

Before voting began, first-term Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Monmouth) called for an amendment seeking additional funding to study learning loss and the mental health of students. Flynn’s request sparked a nearly 25-minute debate.

“I thought by the fourth month of being here with you that we would have had bill after bill after bill making sure that we’re funding the learning loss, the mental health needs of our students and today I’m looking at a bill to fund … over $15 million for electric buses,” she said.

When Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic), who was presiding over the session, told Flynn to remain on the topic of the bill, she argued she was.

“I am on the bill,” she said. “This is a hostile amendment I’m going to propose.”

As Wimberly looked to proceed, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) moved to table the debate on Flynn’s amendment. Greenwald’s motion passed 42-33.

More Republicans stood in defense of Flynn as Democrats defended the electric bus bill. Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) noted the environmental impact the legislation would have on future generations. Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex) said the proposed funding should be returned to taxpayers.

“Put your money where your mouth is,” Wirths said. “I hope you’re driving electric cars if you think the taxpayers should pay for some Jetson bus that may come out and work in some infrastructure that can support them, but we need to return this money.”

The electric bus measure passed 46-31. The Senate companion bill is waiting to be heard in the Senate Budget Committee with new amendments.

The bill’s supporters say getting more electric buses on New Jersey roads would protect the health of children and improve air quality.

“Not only will this transition from diesel to electric reduce air pollution, it will also reduce operating costs to school districts in fuel and maintenance over the life of the bus,” Anjuli Ramos-Buscot, New Jersey chapter director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement.

Thursday was a testy day in Trenton. Earlier in the day, Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) was rejected by her Democratic colleagues when she called for a vote to create an oversight committee with subpoena power to investigate nursing home deaths during the pandemic. Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) was also barred from introducing a proposal to give a tax break to drivers to offset rising gas prices.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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