Bill moving through Senate would increase penalties for school bus passings

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By David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Transportation & Infrastructure Committee approved a bill to increase the penalties for passing a school bus when its lights are flashing and students are getting on and off.

The committee also heard from a Division of Highways official on DOT’s problems keeping up with secondary road paving and maintenance.

The bus bill is SB 238. Passing a bus with flashing lights is a misdemeanor. It increases the range of fines for first offense from $250-$500 to $500-$1,000; second offense from $500-$1,000 to $1,000-$1,500; and the flat fine for third and subsequent offense from $1,000 to $2,000.

Driver’s license suspensions are also increased: first offense from 30 to 60 days; second offense from 90 to 180 days; third offense from 180 days to one year.

Violating the law and causing serious injury to anyone other than the driver is a felony. The fine range is raised form $500-$2,000 to $2,000-$5,000.

Causing death is also a felony. The fine range goes from $1,000-$3,000 to $5,000-$10,000.

Committee chair Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said the oil and gas traffic in his area has led to growth in the problem. “I’ve seen an uptick in the number of people passing school buses in a hurry to get somewhere. They just go right by.”

SB 238 passed unanimously with no debate and goes next to Senate Judiciary.

House floor session

The House of Delegates unanimously approved a bill to give qualifying home-bound voters to absentee ballots.

And a bill on second reading to establish runoff elections for state Supreme Court races was tucked away for a time to allow for some further tweaking.

The absentee ballot bill is HB 2362. Delegates voted on Monday to name it the Ardala Miller Memorial Act, in memory of the mother of Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, who inspired creation of the bill.

Current law allows county clerks to employ special poll workers to deliver emergency absentee ballots, upon request, to voters in hospitals or healthcare facilities within 35 miles of the county seat or in an adjacent county, or to voters in a nursing home within the county.

This bill would extend that to voters confined to a specific location within the county – typically their home – within seven days of the election. It would apply to a voter confined with an illness or injury; a physical disability; or immobility due to advanced age.

It passed 97-0 without debate and goes to the Senate.

The Supreme Court bill is HB 2008. It says that if no candidate in a Supreme Court election receives more than 40 percent of the vote in the May election, the two highest vote-getters will face off in a runoff in November.

The bill was on second reading, and subject to floor amendment, on Monday and again on Tuesday. The House Rules Committee, consisting of leaders of both parties, voted before the floor session to move it to its inactive calendar.

Majority Leader Amy Summers said after the floor session that there are questions about runoff dates for special elections and some other matters. They’re talking with county clerks and others in order to iron out the issues so they can bring it back to the floor and amend it.

If passed by both chambers, the bill would take effect in time for the 2020 election.