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New York lawmakers reach deal for school bus cameras to catch drivers

ALBANY – Lawmakers say they have reached a deal to permit school districts to use cameras to catch drivers who fail to stop when students are boarding or getting off buses.

“We have to put in place measures to keep our kids safe,’’ said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat who chairs the Senate transportation committee. He said he and Assemblyman William Magnarelli, a Syracuse Democrat, have reached a two-house deal to pass the long-stalled school bus camera bill.

School districts will have the option whether to opt in to the camera program, under which images of drivers failing to stop when a school bus has its red lights on will be transmitted to local municipalities and law enforcement.

The cameras are not cheap – up to $7,000 apiece – and would be mounted on the arm that swings out when a bus is stopped to discharge and take on students, or on some other part of a bus' exterior. But officials say municipalities and districts will be able to cut deals with camera companies to install the cameras for no charge while allowing the private operators keep a share of the fine money.

“We are supportive of this legislation because we do believe it is a safety issue,’’ said Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association.

“People passing stopped school buses is something we hear about all the time. … A lot of people just ignore the fact that a bus is stopped,’’ he said.

But Kremer said it is uncertain whether districts will not face any costs by installing and operating the camera systems. He noted camera companies might be financially incentivized to cut no-cost deals with larger districts – like New York City – where more fine revenues would be expected than in, say, smaller rural and suburban districts.

“I assume somebody’s going to have to pay for it,’’ Kremer said of the camera technology.

The Senate and Assembly deal, which would still need approval by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, calls for municipalities interested in the program to opt into it. Schools in those municipalities would then have to also pass a resolution authorizing the local municipality – with legal jurisdiction over traffic enforcement laws – to enter into a camera contract on its behalf. Costs incurred by the schools would be paid for by the municipality, which officials say could cut contracts with camera companies to possibly avoid or reduce any local costs.

Schools would have the responsibility to transmit images of cars going past a stopped school bus to the local municipality and law enforcement. A first-time offense would carry a $250 fine, rising to $300 apiece for three or more infractions.

Kennedy said state officials have estimated there are 50,000 incidents in which stopped school buses are passed each day in New York.

“These are eye-popping numbers and it’s mainly due to the fact that there is no enforcement mechanism in place. This law will now hold those who pass stopped school buses accountable,’’ Kennedy said.

Magnarelli, the Assembly sponsor, did not have an immediate comment.

Several hours after Kennedy announced the deal, Cuomo said he will sign the bill into law after it passes the Legislature in the coming week or so.

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