Lawmaker Fears Bill Delay Could Kill Children

Rep. Larry Howes was furious as seconds ticked away toward the 2011 Minnesota Legislature’s adjournment deadline.

While the Walker Republican’s colleagues in the House debated tiny details of a bill funding outdoors and arts programs, senators were not even meeting. For hours on the last day, senators cooled their heels awaiting possible votes.

In essence, Howes said he feared that senators’ inaction could result in children dying.

“I’m angry,” Howes said as the clock ticked.

What upset him was that the Senate, which adjourned 17 minutes before its midnight deadline, did not vote on a school bus safety bill.

“It’s a small bill,” Howes said, but one that could save children.

His proposal, which passed the House 133-1 on May 16, would have required new school buses to be equipped with a crossing control arm, those long arms that extend from the front bumper when a bus stops. The arm is designed to prevent children from crossing in front of a school bus, a place where drivers often cannot see.

Howes said 85 percent of school buses in cities have the arms, but almost none in rural Minnesota. He said he knows of at least two deaths caused by bus drivers not seeing the children. A crossing control arm, he said, could have prevented the deaths.

The representative talked to the Senate Republican caucus executive director about the bill, but apparently did not convince him the bill needed a vote. Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, was the Senate bill’s author.

The co-author of the House bill, Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, joined Howes in being frustrated.

“Why should children’s safety be a problem?” He asked.

Howes has tried to get the bill passed as part of a larger education bill in past sessions, but knowing the controversy over the big education bill, he thought it best to try a stand-alone measure this year.

Since a special legislative session is needed to pass a state budget, there is a chance the Howes provision could be folded into a new education bill, but a special session likely will be limited to money issues and getting the bus measure through could be tough.