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School bus seat belts could be coming to Washington

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OLYMPIA, Wash. – A state lawmaker said Thursday she will be proposing a bill  in the new legislative session that would require all school buses to be outfitted with three-point harness seat belts.

“Kids on a school bus on a rollover are equivalent to clothes in a dryer,” said state Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, who represents Washington’s 14th Legislative District, which includes all of Klickitat and Skamania counties, most of western Yakima County, and a slice of eastern Clark County.

“I just visually see my child turning and turning, when they could’ve been held safe with a lap shoulder safety belt,” she said.

McCabe is proposing a multimillion-dollar overhaul for every school bus in our state.

“As a parent I would like them,” said D. Ann Peters, walking outside in Olympia. She said her biggest concern is funding for already cash-strapped school districts. Retrofitting a bus with three-point harness belts could cost upwards of $10,000. For the Olympia School District, that would be a cost of $350,000, and there are more than 200 school districts in the state.

“I wouldn’t run the bill if I didn’t have a solution for that,” said McCabe.

She said the solution can be found when talking to bus drivers about their number one complaint -- stop-paddle violations, where drivers pass stopped school buses despite the stop paddles being out.

“In May this last year, 2016, there were over 1,500 violations in one day,” said McCabe. At $430 dollars a ticket, that’s more than $600,000 a day that McCabe said could be used to pay for seat belts.

“And those are the ones that were caught.”

If passed, one-third of the funds collected would go right back to the police departments and another third would go to counties to offset increased court demands.

Six states currently have laws on the books requiring school buses to have seat belts. McCabe is hoping that by the end of the legislative session, Washington will be state number 7.

“The messaging we give children is to put their seat belt on to go to a birthday party, to go to school, to go to the dentist, because it keeps you safe, yet at the same time we ask them to get on the bus with virtually a stranger with no seat belts,” she said. “It’s an important bill; it can save lives.”