NASHVILLE (WATE) – After several children were killed and others seriously injured in a school bus crash in Chattanooga, there’s been a new effort to put seat belts on school buses. Some Tennessee lawmakers are hoping to move a bill forward as the General Assembly gets back to work.
“You put them on a bus, you are entrusting them to bring them home safely,” said State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey.
She and other state leaders are continuing the conversation about seat belts on school buses as the 110th General Assembly starts session.
“I think it is definitely something that we need to look at,” she said.
She supports seat belts after the deadly accident in Chattanooga, as well as a crash that hits closer to home – the Knox County bus crash two years ago.
“Obviously it is coming up with funding, but this might be a good year to come up with funding,” Massey said.
This session, the state is deciding what to do with its budget surplus. Some representatives say fixing school buses will cost a couple of million dollars.
“But then the increase cost of buses that when we go to purchase those, is something that local governments and state governments have to somehow fund, so that’s where the issue comes in,” said State Rep. Eddie Smith.
Smith says it’s not just about funding or adding seat belts. It’s also about making sure the fixes are best for all ages.
“As young as kindergarten can easily operate whatever we put on there, but it also works because that same bus may haul high school students,” he said.
Smith and Massey both agree on making sure the most qualified drivers are behind the wheel, bringing in experts to find out what the best and safest fixes are.
Possible gas tax increase
Meanwhile, gasoline taxes and money for roads are expected to be a hot issue for the General Assembly. The gas tax increase idea has been around. There was talk last year, but it didn’t happen.
“It needed to be comprehensive. It needs to be something that is reasonable,” said Massey.
A new increase proposal is likely coming from Gov. Haslam soon. Legislators hope it’s a concrete plan. The extra money will go toward repairing Tennessee’s roads.
“The numbers I hear is anywhere from seven to ten cents a gallon,” Massey said.
That’s on top of the 21 cents you pay in taxes at the pump right now. Sen. Massey thinks the average driver will pay $30 more a year with the tax increase.
“It’s not all on the back of one particular group of people,” said Massey.
Instead, the tax increase will also be applied to truck drivers.
“We ask the residents of our state to pay more than we ask of the trucking industries, so I think what we need to look at is equalization,” said Smith.
Smith says alternative fuel drivers should also get taxed.
“So it doesn’t become a certain segment of the population is paying nothing but they are getting the full benefits,” he said.
Because the possible tax increase may not fall on one group, some lawmakers say their constituents are okay with paying a little extra.
“They want safe roads to drive on. They want to get to and from work,” said Smith.
“They want really good roads in Tennessee,” said Massey.