PA 07-224—sHB 6955

Education Committee

Transportation Committee

Appropriations Committee

Judiciary Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING OPERATOR'S LICENSES BEARING A SCHOOL BUS ENDORSEMENT

SUMMARY: This act imposes additional background check requirements on applicants for licenses and endorsements to drive school buses and school transportation vehicles (STVs), including a check of the state child abuse and neglect registry. It requires the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) commissioner to deny a license or suspend an endorsement for transporting students for anyone convicted of a serious criminal offense, if the person has not completed his or her sentence or completed it within the past five years.

The act (1) requires, rather than allows, the DMV commissioner to periodically provide reports to public transportation providers, including school districts, listing anyone whose commercial driver's license or passenger endorsement the commissioner has suspended, withdrawn, or revoked and (2) requires each carrier to check these reports at least twice a month and, within 10 days after each check, prohibit from driving any of its school bus or STV drivers who are not properly licensed.

The act extends required random drug testing to those employed to drive STVs that carry 10 or fewer students and bars carriers from continuing to employ as a driver any school bus or STV driver who tests positive for drugs. The ban runs for two years after a first positive test and becomes permanent after a second such test.

The act increases penalties on (1) carriers who fail to implement required drug testing for school bus and STV drivers and applicants and (2) school transportation contractors who allow anyone not properly licensed to drive a school bus carrying school children. It imposes fines on carriers who fail to carry out the required checks of drivers' licensure status or fail to remove an operator who is not properly licensed.

The act also bars the DMV commissioner from issuing temporary licenses with school bus or STV endorsements, eliminates special license endorsements for camp vehicle drivers, and makes minor and technical changes.

Finally, the act requires each school bus company to paint its name and phone number and the bus number conspicuously in black lettering on the rear and sides of each of its school buses. It requires the DMV commissioner to determine the size of the lettering.

EFFECTIVE DATE: July 1, 2007, except for the bus-painting requirement, which is effective October 1, 2007.

DRIVER BACKGROUND CHECKS

Before the DMV commissioner issues a license with a school bus or STV endorsement, the act requires him to check each applicant against the state child abuse and neglect registry maintained by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). The registry lists individuals the DCF commissioner finds are responsible for child abuse or neglect. The act allows the DMV commissioner to refuse endorsements to applicants listed as perpetrators of abuse and immediately notify the applicant, in writing, of the refusal. (PA 07-5, June Special Session, requires the DCF commissioner to give DMV copies of records, without an applicant's consent, to allow DMV to check the registry. )

The act also subjects applicants for STV endorsements to the same state and national criminal history records checks as already apply to applicants for school bus driver endorsements. As is the case for school bus endorsement applicants, the act allows the DMV commissioner to refuse to issue an STV endorsement when he or she is notified that the applicant has a state or national criminal history record.

By law, an STV is any vehicle, other than a registered school bus, that a carrier uses to transport students under age 21, including special education students. A “carrier” is a school district, a school district's contractor, or any other person compensated for transporting students. Carriers also include corporations, institutions, and nonprofit organizations that provide transportation as an ancillary service primarily to people under age 18.

DENYING LICENSURE OR CONTINUED ENDORSEMENT FOR SERIOUS CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS

The act requires the DMV commissioner to deny licensure or suspend an endorsement issued for transporting students to anyone convicted of a criminal offense the commissioner determines is serious, or an offense under any federal or other state's law the commissioner determines is substantially similar, if any part of the sentence for the conviction is either not completed or was completed in the past five years. It requires the commissioner to adopt regulations to implement this provision.

PERIODIC LICENSE AND ENDORSEMENT STATUS CHECKS

The act requires, rather than allows, the commissioner to give boards of education and other public and private organizations actively engaged in providing public transportation a report containing the names and license numbers of anyone whose license or endorsement he or she has withdrawn, suspended, or revoked. The commissioner must periodically update the report, according to a schedule the commissioner establishes, and can transmit or make the report available electronically.

The act requires each carrier to (1) review the commissioner's report at least twice a month to check whether any of its school bus and STV drivers' names and license numbers is listed and (2) bar from driving a school bus or STV any employee whose license or endorsement to operate such vehicles is listed as having been withdrawn, suspended, or revoked.

DRUG TESTING

The law requires carriers to conduct pre-employment urinalysis drug tests of all school bus and STV drivers they intend to employ. Federal and state laws also require carriers to conduct random drug and alcohol testing of their employees who drive school buses designed to seat more than 10 passengers. This act subjects all school bus and STV drivers to random drug testing, thus extending testing to those who drive STVs designed to carry 10 or fewer passengers. As under prior law, drug testing must comply with state laws governing employment and pre-employment drug testing.

The act bars a carrier from continuing to employ as a driver someone who tests positive for drugs. The ban applies for two years after the first positive test and becomes permanent after a second such test. Under state and federal law, a driver with a positive drug test result already had to be removed from safety-sensitive duty, but there was formerly no set period during which such a driver was barred from driving. Instead, before such a driver could return to duty, he or she had to be evaluated, comply with recommended rehabilitation, and have a negative result on a return-to-duty test (CGS 14-261b and 49 USC 31306).

PENALTIES

Drug Testing Violations

The act increases, from $1,000 to $2,500, the civil penalty against carriers who, for a second or subsequent time, (1) fail to conduct pre-employment and random drug testing of school bus and STV drivers and applicants or (2) hire applicants or continue to employ as drivers employees who test positive for drugs. It does not change the penalty for a first offense, which remains $1,000. The act makes penalties consistent by also increasing penalties in another statute (CGS 14-261b(c)) that subjects to civil penalties a carrier who fails to comply with federal and state drug testing requirements for employees. It increases penalties under that law from $300 to $1,000 for a first offense and from $1,000 to $2,500 for subsequent offenses.

Failure to Review License Status Reports and Remove Listed Drivers Within 10 Days

The act imposes civil fines on carriers who fail to review the DMV commissioner's periodic reports of drivers whose licenses have been suspended, withdrawn, or revoked, or who fail, within 10 days after the review, to bar those listed in the report from driving a school bus or STV. The fine for failure to review the report is $1,000 for a first, and $2,500 for each subsequent, violation. The fine for failure to remove a driver listed in a report within 10 days is $2,500 for a first, and $5,000 for a subsequent, violation. The act allows the DMV commissioner to reduce these penalties when a carrier presents appropriate justification.

Using a Driver Who is Not Properly Licensed

The act increases the penalty against a town's school transportation contractor who permits anyone without a passenger and school endorsement to drive a school bus carrying school children. The previous fine was from $35 to $90. The act increases it to between $2,500 and $5,000 and eliminates the offense's designation as an infraction.

BACKGROUND

Camp Vehicle

A camp vehicle is a motor vehicle regularly used to transport passengers under age 18 in connection with the activities of any youth camp requiring licensure by the Department of Public Health.

OLR Tracking: JSL: JR: PF: TS