Bill hiking fines for passing stopped school buses advances despite concerns

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A bill to increase penalties for people who pass a stopped school bus made it out of a key House committee on Wednesday despite some significant objections.

Senate Bill 298 creates an additional fine for illegally passing a stopped school bus. It’s already a criminal violation and the bill will add a civil violation.

It passed a House Judiciary III committee on Wednesday by an 8-3 vote but had some detractors.

“It does not save one child’s life,” Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County said in a impassioned opposition to the bill.

Rep. Paul 'Skip' Stam
Rep. Paul ‘Skip’ Stam argues against a bill to raise fines on people who pass stopped school buses.

Stam said the bill was “totally driven by the camera companies.”

But the bill was praised in committee by others. One lawmaker called it a bill “about the health and safety and welfare of the children who ride our school buses in North Carolina.”

And another said, “We owe it to our children to find and prosecute as many of these violators as possible.”

More than 3,000 people illegally pass a stopped bus on any given school day in North Carolina.

Only about 29 percent of those charged are convicted.

The new bill would allow schools to use camera evidence to charge violators a civil fine. The fine would be $400 the first time for passing a stopped school bus and $750 the second and $1,000 any time after that. The school systems would share the fines with the school bus camera companies.

Some lawmakers worry the fines are too steep, and don’t want to see camera companies making money off of violations.

Stam says he’d rather focus on strengthening how the state prosecutes criminal violations

He argued vehemently against the bill.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have $400 to pay right now,” Stam told WNCN.

But Sen. John Alexander of Wake County, one of the sponsors of the bill, remained a staunch defender of the measure.

“If you pass a stopped school bus, I think you should pay the $400,” Alexander said. “If it puts you in a pinch, so be it. You won’t do that again. We’re trying to save kids’ lives.”

Rep. John Alexander defends a bill that hikes fines.
Rep. John Alexander defends a bill that hikes fines.

The law would allow companies to install even more cameras for free and split the money from fines with the school.

One person who happy with the  vote was Derek Graham of the Department of Public Instruction.

“We are pleased to see it moving forward. It can change behavior,” Graham said. “We’ve got too much data, too many years of children getting hurt.”

How many cameras were put on school buses would be up to the individual school systems.

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Committee votes to pass bill on stiffening penalties for those who pass school buses

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