State Capitol Week in Review From Senator Terry Rice

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LITTLE
ROCK – Back to school in Arkansas means that more than 6,000 buses will
transport 350,000 students to and from school.

It
also means that motorists need to remember that it is against the law to pass a
stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing. That’s when children are
getting on or off the bus.

Earlier
this year, the legislature increased the potential penalties for illegally
passing a stopped school bus. Act 166 of 2019 raises the minimum amount of the
penalty from $250 to $500, and the potential maximum penalty from $1,000 to
$2,500.

August
begins the annual awareness campaign in Arkansas promoted by legislators, the
state Education Department, the governor, school administrators, bus drivers
and mechanics and parents. It’s called “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.”

The
need for heightened awareness is driven home by the alarming results of annual
surveys done by bus drivers. Those results show that way too many motorists
drive by stopped school buses, and the trend is getting worse.

In
April, 3,896 school bus drivers participated in a one-day survey. They
represent 227 Arkansas school districts. They reported that on a single day,
884 motor vehicles illegally passed stopped school buses that had red lights
flashing.

That
was an increase over the previous year. Most of the violations, 711, happened
when motorists passed the bus while driving in the opposite direction. Whether
going in the same or in the opposite direction, the overwhelming majority of
motorists passed the bus on its left side.

However,
12 motorists passed the bus on the right side, which is cause for even greater
alarm because the bus doors are on the right side, and it’s the side on which
children get off and on the bus.

Nationally,
the statistics are just as alarming. A one-day survey of 100,000 bus drivers
indicated that more than 88,000 motorists passed a stopped school bus.

Keep
in mind school buses lower the overall volume of traffic because parents and
guardians don’t have to drive the students to school. That keeps the family car
off the road.

If
you pick up your children from a school bus stop, always wait on the side where
they will be dropped off, so they are not tempted to run across the street to
greet you.

In
2004, an elementary school student in Bryant was killed when a motorist
illegally passed his stopped school bus as students were getting off the bus.

In
2005, the legislature increased the penalties for anyone found guilty of
illegally passing a stopped school bus. The stricter penalties were in
legislation known as Isaac’s Law, named after the boy who was killed in Bryant.
It was Isaac’s Law that was strengthened during the 2019 legislative session.

Broadband
Access in Rural Areas

The
governor announced a plan to fund his initiative to bring high speed Internet
to all communities, called “Arkansas Rural Connect,” with $25 million.

It
calls for action this year by the Legislative Council to provide $5.7 million
for grants for small communities that lack Internet service. In next year’s
fiscal session the legislature will consider an appropriation for the remainder
of the $25 million.

The
program builds on work done earlier this year by the legislature, when it
approved Act 198 of 2019. The measure allows local government entities to begin
their own broadband services.

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Tammy Moore Teague

Tammy Moore Teague

Mansfield native, with roots in Scott County. Daughter, sister, wife and Christian. Education: 1995 MHS graduate; 1999 Arkansas Tech University Graduate - BA in Journalism. Career: Managing Editor - The Citizen; Copy Writer - Southwest Times Record; Editor - Resident Press. 20+ years experience in the news.

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