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SALT LAKE CITY — After multiple meetings of lengthy debate, a bill proposing to provide funds to replace old diesel-burning buses with alternative fuel buses passed the Senate Education Committee on Thursday.
HB49, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, would appropriate $20 million in one-time money to replace, modify or retrofit some 350 old buses with matching funds from school districts.
But some lawmakers said the bill in its original form would have rewarded districts that have neglected to replace or maintain buses on their own and penalize districts that have proactively done so.
Legislators noted that the Davis School District has 141 buses that were purchased prior to 2002, but only half of them have been retrofitted since then. In the Box Elder School District, all of the district's 33 buses older than 2002 have been retrofitted.
But a substitute bill sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, was adopted and would distribute the $20 million evenly to qualifying districts through the capital outlay funding model. Districts that have already taken care of their dirty buses can spend the money on infrastructure for natural gas buses or other capital projects.
"The bill as it was, basically, gave the money with a match to the districts that had the most buses that were not clean. It may have had an unintended consequence of rewarding those who hadn't been cleaning up their buses," Stephenson said.
Handy said that while the funds still have to compete with student funding needs in the classroom, the money is needed to make the students' journey to and from school a safe one.
"If these young students can't get to school healthy, what difference does it make? They need to get there healthy without these exhaust fumes," Handy said.
The bill passed the committee in a unanimous vote and now goes to the full Senate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: MorganEJacobsen