Gov. Phil Murphy signed four bills on Monday, Dec. 17 designed to enhance school bus safety.

Since a school bus accident in May that killed a teacher and fifth-grade student from Paramus, legislators have been working aggressively to increase the safety of students and staff on school buses.

New School Bus Safety Laws Signed by Governor

Driver and Bus Aide EducationA-4345/S-2853 (P.L.2018, c.160) codifies into law existing State Board of Education regulations concerning the safety education program currently required of all permanent and substitute school bus drivers and school bus aides.  The bill requires the program to be provided twice per calendar year; existing regulations do not specify the frequency with which the program is to be administered. NJSBA supports the bill. The law goes into effect immediately.

Ensuring Bus Driver FitnessS-2848/A-4346 (P.L.2018, c.151) will require a school bus driver renewing, or an applicant seeking, either a passenger (“P”) endorsement or school bus (“S”) endorsement for his or her commercial driver license to submit proof of physical fitness upon license renewal or initial application. Proof of physical fitness would require a medical examination and accompanying medical certificate completed by a qualified medical examiner. In addition, the legislation would require additional and more frequent medical examinations for drivers once they reach the ages of 70 (annually) and 75 (every six months).  Lastly, the bill requires that all drivers of buses or any other vehicles used for student transportation submit to a medical exam that includes ear and eye tests.  NJSBA supports the bill. The law takes effect immediately.

Removing Suspended Drivers from the RoadS-2850/A-4344 (P.L.2018, c.152) requires a board of education or school bus contractor to provide the N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) with a statement, within one business day of receiving notification of a bus driver’s license suspension or revocation, verifying that the school bus driver no longer operates a school bus. Under current law, the NJDOE is notified by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) if a school bus driver has his or her driving privileges suspended or revoked. The NJDOE then provides this information to the appropriate board of education or school bus contractor that employs the driver.  NJSBA supports the bill. The law goes into effect immediately.

Complying with Federal Safety RegulationsA-4339/S-2852 (P.L.2018, c.159) requires school bus operations in New Jersey to comply with federal regulations concerning civil rights requirements, noise emissions, certain federal programs, registration and insurance, drug testing, safety fitness procedures, and various safety requirements.  The law goes into effect 180 days following the governor’s approval.

Safety Bill Vetoed

Conditional Veto on Student ID and Passenger List Bill One school bus safety bill did not receive the governor’s signature, but was instead conditionally vetoed and returned to the Legislature with recommended changes.  As approved by the Legislature, A-4342/S-2855 would have required K-12 public school students to carry identification cards at school-sponsored, off-campus activities and would have also required principals to keep lists of students on school buses used for school-sponsored activities in case of emergencies.

Gov. Murphy cited cost concerns as the rationale for not approving the measure. In his veto statement, he wrote, “the broad and mandatory nature of the provisions of this bill could be subject to a successful unfunded mandate challenge because the legislation does not authorize resources to offset the additional direct expenditures for affected school districts to implement its detailed provisions.” His recommended changes to the legislation would make its provisions permissive rather than mandatory.  The Legislature can now accept his recommendations, attempt to override his veto, or allow the bill to die.

Additional Safety Bills Sent to Governor

At Monday’s Senate and General Assembly voting sessions, three more school bus safety bills received final legislative approval and were sent to the governor. They are:

Transportation Supervisor CertificationA-2436/S-2755 would require school district transportation supervisors to complete the School Transportation Supervisors Certification Program offered by Rutgers University or an alternate certification program designated by the commissioner of education. The program will include courses focused on the statutes and regulations that govern school transportation operations.  NJSBA supports the bill.

School Bus Safety StudyA-4224/S-2754 would direct the Commissioner of Education to study school bus accidents and examine ways to improve school bus safety. The impact of various safety technologies that could be installed in school buses, such as speed restrictors, automatic braking, and electronic stability control would be assessed. The qualifications to serve as a school bus driver would also be studied. The analysis would include an evaluation of the statutory and regulatory requirements relating to school bus safety, the oversight of school bus operations, and the current policies, plans, and procedures implemented by school districts. The study would be performed in consultation with the State Police, the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the NJMVC, and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  NJSBA supports the bill.

Suspending School Bus EndorsementsS-2914/A-4447 would require the chief administrator of the NJMVC to suspend the school bus (“S”) endorsement on a person’s driver’s license for 90 days if the person is convicted of three or more motor vehicle moving violations in a three-year period or accumulates six or more motor vehicle penalty points while operating a commercial or non-commercial motor vehicle.  Prior to reinstating the school bus endorsement suspended under the provisions of the bill, the person would be required to complete a defensive driving course.  NJSBA supports the measure.

(Note: Earlier this year, the governor approved a measure that would require all newly manufactured school buses to be equipped with three-point seat belts.)

Other Bills, Supported by the NJSBA and Signed by Governor

In addition to the school bus safety measures, the governor also approved the following two bills that were actively supported by the NJSBA:

Electronic ProcurementA-3112/S-1599 (P.L.2018, c.156) authorizes local units of government, including boards of education, to use electronic procurement technologies. The bill would authorize electronic procurement for the purchase of electric and gas services and for the sale of surplus and personal property. The NJSBA believes that boards should be able to take advantage of electronic procurement technology and practices that result in streamlined purchasing procedures and more efficient use of taxpayer funds. Therefore, the Association, along with its local government partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and the N.J. Association of Counties, strongly supported this legislation. The law becomes effective on Oct.1, 2019.

Dual Enrollment Study CommissionS-870/A-3636 (P.L.2018, c.145) establishes a “Dual Enrollment Study Commission” to develop a statewide framework for the future implementation of an expanded dual-enrollment program. Through the program, all college-ready high school students will be eligible to enroll in up to 15 college credits at a partnering institution of higher education while still enrolled in high school. The commission will study a myriad of issues related to the implementation of an expanded dual enrollment program such as program and tuition costs, transportation services, and course rigor. The study commission will include a representative of the NJSBA, as well as other stakeholders in the K-12 and higher education communities. Upon the completion of its work, the commission will issue a framework to assist in the implementation of an expanded statewide dual-enrollment program.

Nepotism, LGBT Bills Among Those Approved and Sent to Governor

Both the Senate and General Assembly held voting sessions and approved a handful of bills affecting local school districts and students, summarized below.

LGBT InstructionS-1569/A-1335 requires each board of education to provide instruction on the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards. It is modeled on a law adopted in California, the “Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education (FAIR) Act.”  If enacted, the bill’s provisions would be first applicable in the 2020-2021 school year. NJSBA supports the bill.

Nepotism PoliciesA-557/S-2637 requires the adoption of nepotism policies by school districts and charter schools. Under regulations adopted by the commissioner of education, boards of education were required to adopt a nepotism policy by Oct. 1, 2008. This legislation codifies those requirements and adds new requirements including: adding in-house school board attorneys and directors of personnel to the list of school staff covered by the nepotism rules. It also adds a provision providing that if a school board member, chief school administrator, school business administrator, school board attorney, or director of personnel ceases to serve a school district, and his relative becomes employed in an office or position in the school district within three months, then the school board member, chief school administrator, school business administrator, school board attorney, or director of personnel may not work for the district for a period of 12 months from his last date of service or employment.

Financial Literacy EducationA-1414/S-1592 would require financial literacy instruction to pupils enrolled in grades six through eight. The instruction must meet the requirements established by the State Board of Education, reflect the age and comprehension of the students enrolled in the particular grade level and include content on budgeting, savings, credit, debt, insurance, investment and other issues associated with personal financial responsibility as determined by the State Board of Education. NJSBA supports the bill.

Sexual Consent InstructionA-2190/S-3108 would require a school district to incorporate instruction in grades six through 12 on the law and meaning of consent for physical contact and sexual activity as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The instruction is to be designed to increase discussion and awareness that consent is required before physical contact or sexual activity, and it also increases awareness of the social, emotional, and relational impact surrounding sexuality, the right to say no to unwanted physical contact or sexual activity, and the virtues of respecting the right of others to say no. NJSBA supports the bill.

Senate Voting Session

The Senate approved the following measures:

STEM Grant ProgramS-688 would establish a four-year “New Jersey Early Innovation Inspiration School Grant Pilot Program” in the New Jersey Department of Education to fund non-traditional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. The program would award grants to school districts that support non-traditional STEM teaching methods for students in grades kindergarten through eight, and support student participation in non-profit STEM competitions, among other things.  Under the bill, the commissioner of education would award a total of six one-time grants of up to $150,000 each. Priority would be given to urban and rural schools, low-performing schools or school districts that serve low-income students. School districts selected would be required to match 25 percent of funds received and garner donations to match an additional 25 percent. NJSBA supports the bill.

New Anti-Bullying Task ForceS-2575 establishes an 11-member task force to examine, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.”  Nine members of the task force will have a background or special knowledge of the legal, policy, educational, social, or psychological aspects of bullying in public schools. The task force also will include two members of the public, a family member of a student who has experienced bullying and a student over the age of 17 who personally has experienced bullying. The task force will examine and evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” It will also examine any unintended consequences resulting from implementation of the act and its regulations including, but not limited to, impacts of the law on athletic coaches; and present any recommendations deemed necessary and appropriate to modify or update the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” and its implementing regulations. NJSBA supports the bill.

Mandatory Eye ExamsS-2804 directs the State Board of Education to require each child age six and under who is entering a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program for the first time to have a comprehensive eye examination completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist by Jan.1 of the child’s initial year of enrollment.   A principal, director or other person in charge of a public preschool, public school, or Head Start Program must collect from the child’s parent or guardian evidence of the child’s comprehensive eye examination.  For children without health insurance, or whose parents’ plans do not include vision benefits, the bill requires the Department of Health to maintain a list of organizations and programs that provide free or reduced cost exams. The bill would also create a fund where both state and private monies can be deposited to help pay for exams for uninsured children and children without comprehensive eye exam coverage. NJSBA supports the bill.

Assembly Voting Session

The General Assembly advanced the following bills:

School Panic Alarms The Assembly voted to accept the governor’s recommendations on legislation concerning the installation of school security panic alarms.  As approved by the Legislature in June, A-764/S-365 required that all public elementary and secondary schools be equipped with a panic alarm for use in a school security emergency, such as a non-fire evacuation, lockdown or active shooter situation. The panic alarm, which is to be inaudible within the school building, must be directly linked to law enforcement authorities and immediately transmit a signal or message to the authorities upon activation. The panic alarm must adhere to nationally recognized industry standards. In addition, the panic alarm must be installed solely by a person licensed to engage in the alarm business.  However, a school district may equip its elementary and secondary school buildings with an emergency mechanism that is an alternative to a panic alarm if the mechanism is approved by the NJDOE. The bill directs the state to reimburse school districts for the full cost of the panic alarms or alternative mechanism, including school districts that installed a panic alarm or alternative system prior to the bill’s effective date.

Entitled “Alyssa’s Law,” the legislation is named in honor of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old student and former resident of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, who was killed on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The version of the bill the Legislature sent to the governor required the state, through the Schools Development Authority, to cover the costs of the mandated security upgrades. In his veto message, the governor noted that funds are not currently available at the SDA. However, since the “Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act” would include revenue for school security upgrades, he recommended this legislation be linked to that revenue source. In November, the voters approved the bond act and authorized the state to borrow $500 million for various types of capital projects in New Jersey’s school districts.  A portion of those funds will be dedicated to school security project grants.

Further, the governor noted concerns with the varying costs and configurations of alarm systems. In order to maximize efficiency and economies of scale, he recommended the SDA be granted authority to oversee purchasing and installation of these systems. Lastly, the governor recommended extending the bill’s effective date in order to accommodate the revised source of funding to allow schools sufficient time to purchase and install the alarms. If signed into law, the measure would go into effect on Sept.1, 2019. The bill now heads to the Senate to concur with the governor’s conditional veto.

Class III Officer RevisionsA-1400 would makes various changes to the law governing Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs).  The original Class III law was enacted in 2016 and established an additional category of “Class III” SLEOs who provide security in schools and county colleges. NJSBA supports this measure, which is intended to increase the pool of applicants who may serve as Class III officers. Specifically, A-1400 makes the following changes to the law:

  1. Authorizes law enforcement officers who served in any law enforcement position eligible for participation in the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, or who served as a law enforcement officer for a federal or bi-state law enforcement agency, to be appointed as a Class III SLEO.
  2. Removes the requirement that the officer be retired from their law enforcement position within three years of appointment as a Class III special officer.
  3. Establishes that Class III SLEOs may not be assigned to an extracurricular or after-school function at a school or college unless that assignment has first been made available to full-time members employed by the municipality, school, or county college; and
  4. Includes county vocational schools in the definition of a county college to clarify that Class III SLEOs are authorized to serve in county vocational schools.

Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee

The committee convened on Monday and released the following NJSBA-tracked bills:

Electronic BiddingS-3137, also known as the “Electronic Bidding Construction Act,” would require public contracting agencies, including local boards of education, that contract for the construction of public works to use electronic procurement technologies for any project that has a value exceeding $5,000,000.  While supportive of the overall intent of the legislation, the NJSBA and its partners at the N.J. State League of Municipalities and N.J. Association of Counties expressed concerns over the mandatory nature of the bill. As noted above, on Monday Gov. Murphy signed into law a measure that will permit school districts and other public entities to use electronic procurement technologies. The NJSBA is urging the Legislature to refrain from establishing a statewide mandate until we have a comprehensive understanding of the financial, practical and logistical benefits and consequences of electronic procurement.

Campaign Funds & Child Care S-2943 explicitly includes within the definition of “campaign expenses” payment for child care expenses incurred by a candidate after the effective date of the bill that were incurred as the direct result of campaign activity. The bill grants authority to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission to determine when child care expenses are incurred as the direct result of campaign activity. The bill now goes to the full Senate for approval.