Increased penalties for bus drivers with suspended licenses clears panel

TRENTON – The Senate Transportation Committee released a bill today increasing penalties for school bus drivers who have a suspended license.

S2127, passed unanimously, establishes the crime of operating a school bus with a suspended driver’s license.

Under the bill, a person is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if the driver operates a school bus with a suspended license. A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment for up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

In addition, the bill establishes a crime of the third degree if the school bus operator is involved in an accident resulting in bodily injury. A crime of the third degree is punishable by a term of imprisonment for three to five years, a fine up to $15,000, or both.

Sponsor Sen. Shirley Turner said she introduced the bill because of a recent rash of school bus accidents across the country, including recently in New Jersey in which a driver who had a suspended license was involved in an accident when 37 students were on board.

Turner said that “We do not want drivers who are on the suspended list to drive our children back and forth to school. It is critical that we ensure that those drivers … should not be driving a school bus much less our precious children.”

Amendments included removing a provision that mandated a prison sentence.

The committee also released these bills:

S2143: This bill would establish a special non-lapsing, revolving fund within the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust to be known as the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Program, which would replace the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank that previously resided as a subaccount of the Special Transportation Trust Fund, which would be repealed.

The bill makes various changes to existing statutes related to the trust in order to expand its mission from water and environmental infrastructure projects, to include transportation projects. The bill requires that funds and accounts of the trust be segregated in such a way as to prevent the mixing of transportation moneys and water or environmental infrastructure moneys.

The bill permits the trust to issue bonds in maturities of up to 30 years for all types of projects and creates an interim financing program for transportation projects matching the existing interim financing program for environmental projects.

Supporters included the N.J. Laborers Union, N.J. Building Construction Trades Council, the Associated General Contractors, and the Utility Transportation and Contractors Association, which said such a “bank’’ needs to be in place for the state to compete for the federal monies, and said the state’s Environmental Infrastructure Trust is a model government agency that can cooperate with the state Transportation Department and not require a new layer of bureaucracy.

Sponsor Sen. Robert Gordon said an earlier congressional bill requires the state to have such infrastructure banks for transportation, and he said that the state had a similar type of account going back to 1997 that essentially was little more than a checking account that had become dormant.

Amendments included removing a provision that would have mandated the labor being utilized had to have undergone an apprenticeship program and removing a provision that required certification that every worker is paid the highest journey worker’s rate established for the apprenticeable trade..

It was released 4-1 with Sen. Joe Pennacchio voting no. He questioned whether the legislation was actually creating an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, and handing over responsibility to an agency, the environmental trust, whose expertise was not in transportation.

“There will a turf war’’ between environmental and transportation interests, he said.

Supporters, however, said the Trust is to consult and work with DOT.

S82: This clarifies when motor vehicle penalty points are assessed for driving a vehicle in an unsafe manner. It was released unanimously.

Current law provides that for the first two convictions, the person is subject to a monetary fine. Upon subsequent convictions, points are assessed except when the subsequent offense occurs more than five years after the last offense.

The bill modifies this by separately prescribing that after a third conviction, penalty points are to be assessed only if the subsequent offense occurs within five years of the third offense or, in the case of an offender with more than three previous convictions, within five years of the immediately preceding conviction.

A person who has committed more than three such offenses would be subject to a fine of $500. Currently, the fine for fourth and subsequent convictions ranges from $250 to $500.

S1686: This bill requires that each year, at least two regular meetings of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority shall be held in the area comprising Atlantic, Cape May, and Ocean counties, and authority meetings held in that area shall rotate among those respective counties. It passed unanimously.

Currently, regular meetings of the authority are held on a monthly basis in the Executive Boardroom of the authority’s Administration Offices in Woodbridge.

It was amended to include at least one meeting a year in Bergen County.

In addition, there are to be amendments that would include other southern counties such as Camden, Sen..Donald Norcross told the panel.

Sen. Robert Gordon told the panel he believed the genesis of the bill related to the N.J. Turnpike widening project a few years ago in which trees were removed from rights of way without the affected counties receiving enough attention. Increased penalties for bus drivers with suspended licenses clears panel