Clean air legislation that seeks to replace older, fuel-inefficient school buses with new models has cleared the Senate Education Committee after spending the last several weeks in limbo.
Under HB 49 – Clean Fuel School Buses and Infrastructure, funding will be given to school districts and charter schools to replace fuel-inefficient school buses that were manufactured prior to 2002 with new buses that use alternative or “clean” diesel fuel.
The total cost of the program is $20 million with $500,000 being reserved for charter schools, with the rest going to school districts. Originally sponsored by Representative Steve Handy (Republican – Layton), the bill has been held up a number of times in committee due to lawmaker concerns surrounding the relatively high price tag.
The bill passed the House Transportation Committee with relative ease in January and advanced in the House on a 47-22 vote, then moved to the Senate Education Committee where it has stalled on several occasions.
During its first hearing before the committee on February 20, Senator Howard Stephenson (Republican – Draper) called the proposal a “bailout,” adding that “I have a hard time understanding why we should send dollars to districts that haven’t been keeping clean buses at the expense of those who have,” said Stephenson.
Despite pleas from members of the public, the committee adjourned without taking a vote. The committee heard the bill again Monday and again Stephenson objected, using the same arguments as before. He requested that the bill be held again so he could have time to revise the legislation and come up with an equitable compromise before sending it to the floor. The committee agreed, postponing action on the bill.
Stephenson presented the substitute bill to the committee Thursday. Under Stephenson’s proposal, program funds will be allocated through the Capitol Outlay Foundation Program, which is being amended to ensure that districts receive funds relative to their tax effort and tax wealth. Districts who qualify for funding will be required to spend it on new school buses and upgraded facilities to accommodate alternative fuel. Those who don’t have “dirty diesel” school buses would be able to use the funds on other capitol purposes.
Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) expressed concern about whether the money should be going to classrooms instead. “We’re saying that working on this bus infrastructure issue is more important,” he said.
Handy said that as important as getting more school funding is, the health of the students should also be of concern. “If these young students can’t get to school healthy, what difference does it make? They need to get there healthy without these exhaust fumes.”
The committee quickly took action, unanimously passing the bill out with a favorable recommendation. It now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.