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Cameras, commerical ads on school buses? Lawmakers say yes

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By Lynn Hatter

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Tallahassee, FL – School Buses could undergo a bit of a face-lift under two bills moving through the senate. Lynn Hatter reports Senators are looking to catch stop-sign runners and allow school bus ads with the proceeds going to cash-strapped school districts.

Imagine driving down the street and passing the familiar, yellow school bus, complete with the black stripes, screaming kids and advertisements? Under a bill unveiled a few weeks ago by Senator Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and head of the Florida Association of School Superintendents, that's correct.

"This bill provides for an investment-free source of revenue for school districts by allowing them to authorize commercial advertisements for school buses."

Now, what could be in those ads is limited. School buses are yellow for a reason- safety. And no one wants to see a bus with something inappropriate on it. Montford's bill outlines what can and can't be on the bus.

"Alcohol, political messages and mature content. The advertisements may in no way, interfere with bus safety devices, and buses with attached devices must meet all safety standards."

The idea for advertisements on buses has been around for a while, but hasn't gotten much, if any traction, mainly because, well people are a bit skeptical of it. One of those reformed skeptics is Mary Lynn Cullen with the National Coalition for School Bus Safety. She says it took a while for her to warm up to the idea.

"I guess I first heard about this bill when Senator Wise wanted to put ads on buses when I wanted to put seat belts on buses. So it's been around for a long time, and I've come to the realization that public schools are a public good, and transportation is a public good and that money should be coming from the public coffers, but it's not coming. And it might even be less as the years go on. And this is a way to get a little more money into the schools."

The money for the advertisements goes mostly to school district transportation costs. A district with 200 buses could earn a million dollars over four years. The bill is slated for three committee stops and cleared the Education committee, but was stalled Tuesday in the Senate's Transportation Committee, where it was temporarily postponed. But while the advertising issue may be idling, another school bus bill to put up cameras to catch stop-sign runners now has a green light. That proposal is coming from another Democrat, Senator Oscar Braynon.

Here's how it works:

"When the bus driver stops, and pops open the stop sign on side, the car is supposed to stop. There will be a detector, whether it be a camera or a video, of anyone that runs the stop sign. This is activated by the driver when she pops open the stop sign, and its cut off when she pulls the stop sign back."

Ignoring a school bus stop sign would carry a 265-dollar penalty much higher than the 158-dollar tickets given to motorists who get caught in by Red Light Cameras posted in intersections. The proposal drew supporters from out of state like Sherry Lewis of Marietta, Georgia, who is a pre- school teacher and mom.

"An average of 20 children are killed in the United States, last year 13 school children were killed, and 5 in Georgia. Some of them being hit by their own bus, some of them being hit by illegal passing of a school bus. One of those children, unfortunately went to my school,, and on that day I vowed that I wouldn't sit by and hear someone tell me there's nothing we can do. I was pretty sure there was something we could do."

Lewis points to Braynon's proposal as a solution to school bus stop sign runners. But passing it by the committee proved more difficult. Representative Rene Garcia, whose own proposal to repeal red light cameras at intersections, expressed doubt.
Sound- "You all know how I feel about cameras, so I also won't be able to support you on this bill, but it's a good bill, and I give you credit for bringing it to this committee."

It was Braynon's first time with a bill before the Senate's Transportation Committee, and as Committee Chair Senator Jack Latvala says, sometimes even good bills go down

"Will the administrative assistant please call the roll on Senate ill 2036 .NO No..No No "

But Braynon's bill was just too good a bill to stay down.

"Take the roll call one more time Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Welcome to the Florida Senate Senator Braynon!"

In the end the bill passed the committee with only one "no" vote. It now goes to the Senate's Budget Committee, which is its last stop before getting to the Senate floor.