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Indiana lawmaker wants to stiffen penalties for school bus stop arm violations

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – After three siblings were killed at a school bus stop in Rochester in October, an Indiana lawmaker said he plans to introduce a bill in January that would stiffen penalties for violating a school bus stop arm.

Republican state Sen. Eric Bassler does not think the current punishment is harsh enough. His bill facilitates misdemeanor charges who commit stop arm violations. If passed, a driver could be arrested and spend time in jail.

Right now in Indiana, drivers are given a traffic ticket if they do not obey a school bus stop arm. Thousands in the state still fail to stop when a school bus is picking up or dropping off students.

The Indiana Department of Education surveys violations for school corporations annually on a given day. On one day in April this year, 3,082 cars violated the stop arm. 7,671 buses participated in the survey.

Sen. Bassler believes a misdemeanor charge would deter drivers from going past a stopped school bus.

"When you are violating a stop arm that is extended on a school bus, my goodness to me that is a very serious offence," he said. "That is more serious than driving 65 in a 55 mph zone."

Sen. Bassler said his bill also would allow school bus drivers, bus monitors and school crossing guards to file a sworn affidavit if they see a violation. Under current law, an officer must witness the violation to ticket someone, according to Indiana State Police Sgt. John Perrine.

Sen. Bassler introduced this bill a few years ago but it was not successful. He said he hopes lawmakers will reconsider this year.

Madison County prosecutor Rodney Cummings thought the harsher penalty was an interesting idea. He said he would not have a problem sending people to jail if they found somebody intentionally violating the stop arm and putting children at risk. Although, he said it's unlikely people in his community would go to jail.

"There's enough crime, real violations of the law that we don't have that space in our jail for a misdemeanor," said Cummings.

Deputies with the Madison County Sheriff's Office see violations frequently so they want tougher penalties. One deputy has issued roughly 100 tickets at bus stops this year.

"They are texting, they're eating, they're doing their hair, they're shaving. I just could go on and on and on," said Major Joey Cole.

There is also a petition on WhiteHouse.gov urging the federal government to issue stricter punishments for drivers who break the law. It was posted on Oct. 31 and calls on Congress and President Trump to sign legislation for "severe penalties" against drivers who illegally cross school bus lights, such as jail time and a fine of at least $5,000 for a first offense. "This is the least we the American voters will accept," the petition said.

As of Tuesday evening, it received more than 10,700 signatures.

Lawmakers in Florida stiffened its penalties in 2017. If a driver hurts or kills someone while driving past a stopped school bus, the "Cameron Mayhew Act" requires drivers to complete 120 hours of community service in a trauma center. Their license also gets suspended for one year and the driver must pay a $1,500 fine.

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