Bill to Fund New, Cleaner, School Buses Again Called a ‘Handout,’ held in Committee

Representative Steve Handy (Republican

A bill that would help replace aging, fuel-inefficient Utah school buses with new models stalled yet again Monday.

Representative Steve Handy (Republican – Layton) presented HB 49 – Clean School Buses and Infrastructure to the Senate Education Committee.

Under the bill, the State Board of Education would be empowered to award grants to school districts or charter schools to replace fuel-inefficient school buses manufactured prior to 2002 with buses that use alternative or “clean” diesel fuel. Districts would have to match the funds allocated to them in order to receive funding and the program is expected to cost $20 million.

“Since we may not have the Healthy Utah initiative this session, how about if we retitle the bill as ‘Healthy Utah School Buses?’,” Handy joked to the committee.

“There’s new money available this year, and I urge that we consider the health, safety, and welfare of our schoolchildren and move this bill forward in the process,” said Handy who believes a clear message needs to be sent to the state that environmentally friendly buses are important for Utah’s school districts. “How things shake out in the appropriations process is anyone’s guess at this point, but we need to send a clear message that clean fuel school buses deserve thoughtful and strong consideration.”

Handy brought the bill to the Senate Education Committee last month however Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) objected to the bill, calling it a “bailout” for school districts that chose to spend their money elsewhere rather than on keeping bus fleets updated. The bill was subsequently held.

It suffered a similar fate yesterday. Stephenson again requested for changes to be made, believing that HB 49 “rewards those who have been spending the money in other areas and not on dirty buses.”

Stephenson is proposing to disburse program funds through the Capitol Outlay Foundation Program. “It would be sent to the districts based on the school building foundation program, which would also be amended to ensure that there’s a continue of districts that receive the money relative to their tax effort and tax wealth,” said Stephenson.

He wants the money to be divided equally to all districts regardless of what they have or haven’t done to their buses. School districts would also be required to spend the money on buses. “I believe that is equitable,” said Stephenson.

Stephenson said the proposed changes are so complex that he felt the bill needed to be held and revised before going to the floor. The committee agreed with him, voting unanimously to hold the bill.

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