November 27, 2021

Bus law proposal gets 2nd look

Measure aims to crack down on drivers who pass stopped school buses

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A child crosses Kinney Gulf Road in Cortlandville on Tuesday after a school bus drops him off. Cortland County is considering a law that would photograph cars that pass stopped school buses and fine the vehicle’s owner.

A proposed Cortland County law that would fine owners whose vehicles passed stopped school buses was sent back to committee and is under review after concerns that not enough school districts and police departments were involved in the decision.

Local Law C would require individual school districts to enter into agreements with the county and an outside vendor to place additional cameras, funded by the county and at no cost to school districts, on the outside of their buses, the proposed law states.

The law came out of the blue, said county Legislator Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble, Scott). It has not yet received wide support from county school districts or police departments.

“Some of the questions we had, and that I had just listening to everyone, was really just a vendor getting paid for it,” Fitch said. “To me, I would have thought this would have went to all of our school districts and it would have been better if the school districts came together and came to the county.”

Marathon Superintendent Rebecca Stone was present at the meeting Thursday night to voice the district’s support. However, additional districts have not spoken out, Fitch said.

“We’ve had several people pass school buses — 32 this past year,” Stone said Thursday. “Last year, someone passed on the right-hand side and almost killed a student.”

But the bill left more questions than answers, Fitch said.

“It’s already a law, it’s already a traffic violation to do that,” Fitch said.

What’s different about this law is that it would photograph the violating vehicle, then cite the vehicle’s owner, rather than rely on a police officer who may or may not be there to stop the driver.

However, Fitch said, the county could come at it differently. It could get grants for the districts that were interested, eliminating the need for a vendor and county costs.

“So for us to pull the reins a little bit and answer the questions that we can and go to the schools and get more bite on this, I think really this has to be a whole county community, it’s not just the county legislature’s doing this,” he said.

However, county Legislator Beau A.C. Harbin (D-Cortland) was one of three to vote against sending the resolution back to committee Thursday. He said the measure should have been adopted.

“We should have voted on it and moved forward,” Harbin said. “It was going to help protect our children in Cortland County and we’ve reviewed it for multiple months.”

Although Marathon sees drivers pass buses often, it hasn’t been an issue in the village of Homer, said Police Chief Robert Pitman. Still, he is in favor of the law.

“It should be a concern if anybody is passing a school bus,” Pitman said. “There are very few things I have no tolerance for and passing a school bus is one of them — I don’t want to see a kid get struck by a car.”