After a few false starts, state Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, won Senate approval Tuesday for legislation imposing a $1,000 fine on motorists who pass a stopped school bus while children are boarding or exiting.
Senate Bill 69 was approved 38-11 and now goes to the House. It nearly failed to pass the Senate last week due to concerns about police being allowed just to ticket the owner of the vehicle, including a business, even if the owner did not commit the infraction.
That spurred Niemeyer to rework the possible defenses to a school bus stop-arm violation to include the vehicle being stolen, a short-term rental, or used by employees of a business.
"That defense is they must, or should, cooperate with the prosecutor to get the names of the people who were driving these vehicles when the violation occurred," Niemeyer said. "Because that's what we're trying to get here — we're trying to get to that person behind that wheel who violated this."
Under the plan, school bus stop-arm violations would be a Class B infraction punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
Niemeyer said he backed off his original proposal for a Class A infraction, with a fine of up to $10,000 per violation, because it would be too costly for Hoosiers.
The two-term senator did not appear to know a separate provision of existing Indiana law, which would remain in effect if Niemeyer's current proposal is enacted, already makes passing a stopped school bus a Class A infraction, with penalties including the $10,000 fine and suspension of the motorist's driving privileges.
Niemeyer said his intent always has been to make it easier for police to ticket school bus stop-arm violations because county prosecutors sometimes decline to pursue criminal charges since school bus stop-arm cameras rarely capture the driver's face.
Ironically, senators separately approved Senate Bill 200 Tuesday, authorizing Indiana's attorney general to begin the process of appointing a special prosecutor if an elected county prosecutor uses his or her discretion to never file charges for certain crimes.