In Brief

Legislation creating school bus safety watchdog advances

By: - December 17, 2021 7:00 am

A bill before the New Jersey Legislature would create a school bus safety ombudsman. (Photo by Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

New Jersey lawmakers advanced a bill Thursday that would create a school bus safety watchdog to ensure drivers are qualified and buses are safe.

The legislation is the last of several measures — already enacted into law — that lawmakers introduced in response to the 2018 crash of a Paramus school bus that killed a teacher and a fifth-grader and injured 43 others on board.

Under the bill, the School Bus Safety Ombudsman would be tasked with checking school bus drivers’ criminal and driving records and reviewing their training certifications.

The ombudsman also would establish a public database of bus drivers including any violations and fines, along with the names of the bus company they work for and its owners, operators, and officers. The watchdog would operate independently of the state Department of Education.

Members of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced the bill Thursday. Its cost was listed as “indeterminate,” although a fiscal estimate said the position’s salary would likely would cost $120,000 to $150,000.

The ombudsman bill was introduced by Assembly members Lisa Swain and Christopher Tully and Sen. Joseph Lagana, Democrats whose Bergen County district includes Paramus. The three also sponsored a related measure, signed into law last month, that would allow school officials to forbid problematic private school bus companies from bidding on contacts.

“This legislation is part of a comprehensive bill package that will make our children safer as they take the travel to and from school,” Lagana said. “We cannot sit back and allow reckless drivers to be behind the wheel of school buses full of kids. Sadly, the residents I represent have seen firsthand why it is so important that we establish competent oversight of this critical process and it is my belief that we can help prevent future accidents through the passage of this bill.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.