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County lawmakers withdraw bill allowing older buses

March 03, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County lawmakers on Tuesday hastily withdrew a bill to extend the life of school buses after learning about possible safety concerns.

In December, the Washington County Commissioners had asked for state authority to keep its school buses on the road for up to 15 years as a cost-saving measure. Right now, buses must be retired after 12 years.

A month later, local lawmakers unanimously agreed to file a bill, which was similar to legislation the Maryland General Assembly passed last year for three Eastern Shore counties.

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It wasn't until lawmakers were preparing for a hearing in Annapolis, which was scheduled for Tuesday, that they learned Washington County Public School officials were against the idea, said delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank.

Shank, R-Washington, said lawmakers discovered "by accident" that Washington County Public Schools Transportation Director Chris Carter had detailed his opposition to County Attorney Richard Douglas in a Jan. 12 letter.

"I am a little concerned that this letter did not make it to the delegation," Shank said. "It was not as simple as it was portrayed to us.

Shank said he quickly polled local lawmakers and found a consensus to withdraw the bill.

"I had to move very fast," he said.

In the letter, Carter said newer buses have more safety features and spew less pollution.

"We believe that this bill endangers the lives of students, increases school system maintenance costs, and flies in the face of the school bus industry and national trends," Carter wrote in the letter.

Extending the life cycle of buses would also mean that it would take longer to implement new safety features, he wrote.

While the bill might have merits, Shank said lawmakers chose to err on the side of caution and revisit the issue later.

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