School bus safety laws signed by Murphy, boosted by APP investigation


TRENTON – Pair of bills signed Monday will fill some of the gaps identified in an award-winning Asbury Park Press and USA TODAY NETWORK investigation into the ‘rogue operators’ of the private school bus industry who routinely put children at risk without penalty.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed Bill A-5818 on Monday, which will publicly identify the owners of a previously banned school bus contractor and prohibit school boards from awarding contracts to them. Grounds for delisting include violating state law, hiring ineligible or disqualified drivers, or not performing satisfactorily.

The second bill, A-5817, increases the fines for school bus contractors who put unqualified drivers behind the wheel of a school bus, up to a fine of $ 15,000 for the third offense and offenses following. The state’s previous law only covered unqualified commercial drivers, including truck drivers. The fines provided for in A-5817 apply specifically to school bus drivers.

The bill also clarifies that a contractor cannot unknowingly claim to have broken the law in order to avoid paying the fine.

Related: New bills would fill dangerous loopholes in the school bus industry

Both bills passed unanimously by the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly in June. They were mainly sponsored by the Senses. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, and Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, and Assembly members Dan Benson, D-Mercer, Lisa Swain and Chris Tully, D-Bergen.

In October 2020, the USA TODAY NETWORK Atlantic Group released a survey detailing loopholes in incorporation, inspection and government procurement laws that allow dubious operators to bypass laws aimed at keeping children safe in homes. school buses.

SUBSCRIBERS ONLY: Read the full survey here!

The investigation showed how some private school bus operators openly flouted state law and, on the rare occasions when they faced significant penalties, simply transferred ownership to one spouse or another. family member or changed the company name and went on to earn millions in taxpayer funded contracts. .

The project received the 2020 Lloyd P. Burns Award for Public Service as part of the New Jersey Press Association’s annual awards competition.

Two days after the network released its investigation, the New Jersey attorney general’s office charged the owners of F&A Transportation – one of the contractors highlighted in the investigation – with theft by deception and contract fraud for allegedly hiring unqualified bus drivers and failing to perform background checks. .

The owners, Ahmed Mahgoub and Faiza Ibrahim, were charged in September 2021.

The legislative package adopted on Monday only partially addresses the countless shortcomings identified by the Network. A third bill would create the post of school bus safety ombudsman within the Ministry of Education, responsible for “coordinating enforcement and accountability” between public bodies responsible for student transportation, such as the Motor Vehicle Commission, DOE and Police Departments.

This bill, also sponsored by Diegnan, Lagana, Benson, Swain and Tully, was never passed in the Senate or the Assembly.

Mike Davis has spent the last decade covering local New Jersey news, marijuana legalization, transportation, and a bit of everything in between. He has won a few awards that make his parents very proud. Contact him at [email protected] or @byMikeDavis on Twitter.

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