AUGUSTA (WGME) -- At the State House, lawmakers on the Transportation Committee are considering several bills to make buses safer for both students and public riders.
The committee heard testimony Tuesday afternoon on one piece of legislation that would require drivers to yield to public transit buses and another that would increase the penalties for illegally passing a school bus.
“It’s a school bus driver’s worst nightmare, I mean this is their worst nightmare,” RSU 18 Transportation Director Lennie Goff said.
Concerned drivers are asking Representative Genevieve McDonald of Stonington to propose stiffer penalties.
Her bill would double the fine from $250 to $500 for a first offense, leaving an optional 30-day license suspension up to the judge.
“Well I understand the impact that a loss of license can have on somebody's livelihood, but the loss of a child outweighs that,” McDonald said.
The ACLU argues the fine, should also be up to the judge, so it doesn't punish low-income drivers more than wealthy ones.
“So you have two people who commit the same traffic infraction, get the same penalty, but experience it very differently and it affects their behavior very differently,” Meagan Sway of the ACLU of Maine said.
Drivers of public transit buses are also calling for change, saying vehicles routinely speed past them as they try to get back into traffic after a stop, often as riders are looking to cross the street.
Senator Ben Chipman is proposing a bill that would require other drivers to yield to the buses.
He says it's more important than ever, now that ridership has increased with high school and college students on board in the Portland area.
“What we'd like to actually do is have signs on the back side of the buses that light up, a yield sign that lights up,” Chipman said.
But state police worry it contradicts current law.
“I believe the confusion may create a greater risk to the public than this bill is trying to prevent,” Maine State Police Lt. Bruce Scott said.
Both sponsors say these proposals come at no additional cost to the state.
The bills will be discussed, and possibly even tweaked, at an upcoming work session before getting a vote from the committee.