A bill creating tax incentives to school systems that use buses with 3-point seat belts, paid for by increasing the fines to reinstate suspended licenses, has unanimously passed the Senate.
It now heads for Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's desk.
"A lot of schools are going to take advantage of this," said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee.
After nearly two dozen bills in previous years to get seat belts on school buses failed, the issue got a fresh impetus following the death of a student from Rocky Hill earlier this year. The Transportation Committee heard testimony that the student's death could have been prevented had they been wearing a seat belt.
Guerrera's originally was pushing for requiring all new school buses to have seat belts, a mandate he said would have had belts on every school bus by 2024.
But support for requiring seat belts on all new school buses failed following a $106 million cost estimate for school systems by the legislature's Office of Fiscal Analysis and no proposal on how to pay for that.
The compromise bill cuts in half the amount of sales tax paid on belt-equipped buses from 6 to 3 percent. Guerrera said during an interview earlier this week it costs up to $8,500 per bus to have these belts, and slashing the sales tax will "eat away at the majority of that cost."
OFA estimates the tax break will pick up less than half the cost for school districts to purchase buses with seat belts.
But Guerrea said, "I'll take this as a win. Something is better than nothing, but I do wish it would have went a little further."
To make up for the state revenue that will be lost from the sales-tax reduction, the bill raises the fine to reinstate a suspended or revoked driving license by $50 to a total of $175.
OFA estimates the fines will generate $2.1 million a year.
Guerrera said if this tax credit doesn't result in more seat belts on school buses, he is not dismissing looking at a mandate down the road.
"One step at a time," he said. "Hopefully this is enough."
Buses currently are designed to comply with a federal safety standard known as compartmentalization, which relies on padding and flexible seats placed close together to absorb impact and protect students in a crash.
Nationwide, six states have decided compartmentalization is not enough and require seat belts on school buses. Similar legislation was proposed in 25 other states in 2009, reports The National Coalition for School Bus Safety. The Congressional Research Service estimated in Aug. 2007 that 35 percent of the nation's school buses are required to have seat belts.