Go Back To School Safely
Published: August 29th, 2016
By: Sen. James Seward

Summer will soon turn to fall and along with the change of season will come a change in lifestyle for our young people as school bells ring once again. For many students it is a return to a familiar routine, but for some it is the start of a whole new world. For all of us, it is a time to think of safety first.

In New York State, approximately 50,000 drivers illegally pass a school bus every day. This illegal practice endangers the lives of children trying to get to and from school – and it must be stopped.

In order to combat this dangerous and illegal behavior, New York has instituted Operation Safe Stop. The cooperative project is supported by the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, the New York State Education Department, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation, the New York State School Bus Contractors Association, the student transportation industry and state, county, city and local law enforcement agencies. Their mission is to promote school bus safety through education enforcement efforts.

The first thing a motorist needs to know is the law itself, which can vary a bit from state to state. In New York State:

* Drivers must stop when the school bus red lights are flashing;

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* Even on divided, multilane highways or school grounds, drivers are required to stop for flashing red lights;

* Penalties for illegally passing a school bus range from $250 - $1,000 fines, points on your license, and/or possible imprisonment.

That final point is one that needs to be addressed further. The penalties for illegally passing a school bus are simply too light – especially when a child’s life could be in danger.

Current law provides that an individual convicted two or more times of speeding in a construction zone be subject to a sixty day suspension of his or her drivers' license. Passing a stopped school bus two or more times however, does not currently carry such a penalty. There is no doubt that passing a stopped school bus possesses as much, if not more, risk to life and limb as speeding in a construction zone and should carry appropriate penalties.

The state senate has overwhelmingly passed legislation (S.1634) I strongly support that would increase penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus. If enacted, the penalties for passing a stopped school bus and speeding in a construction zone would be the same. The senate has passed this bill on multiple occasions, but the state assembly has failed to take action.

A similar bill (S.2978) that would increase the fines for passing a stopped school bus has also received senate approval on multiple occasions. Again, the assembly has not even brought the bill forward for consideration.

One additional measure, which was passed by both the senate and assembly in 2014, and is now law, will help protect school children with severe allergies. The legislation authorizes schools to have and administer the life saving medicine, epinephrine, when a student has a severe allergic reaction.

On another positive note – there is good news for parents who are absorbed in back to school shopping.

Preparing our kids for a new school year can be a fun and exciting time, but it also comes with a price tag. That’s why I want to remind you that a few years ago I helped change state law to exempt clothing and shoe purchases of up to $110 from state sales tax.

Clothing purchases can be a big part of a family budget, and I was pleased to support this tax cut to help hardworking New Yorkers keep more money in their pockets. The repeal of the state portion of the sales tax on clothing is projected to save New York shoppers more than $876 million a year.