On May 12, the Assembly Transportation & Independent Authorities Committee met for the first time since the Legislature went on budget break in mid-March. The committee advanced the following measures affecting New Jersey school districts:

Non-CDL Drivers for Small School Buses A-3565 would permit the holder of a valid noncommercial driver’s license, upon completing certain required training, to operate a “Type S” school bus to transport students to and from school and school-related activities. A “Type S” school bus is a motor vehicle that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 3,000 pounds or more that was designed by the manufacturer with a maximum seating capacity of nine or fewer passengers, excluding the driver. These drivers would not be required to obtain a CDL, passenger endorsement, or school bus endorsement. The bill applies to both buses operated by a board of education as well as those operated by contracted transportation providers.

The bill would require boards and school bus contractors to provide certain training to drivers of Type S buses who do not have a school bus endorsement, including the safety education program that districts and contractors must administer to all bus drivers and bus aides under current law. The bill would also subject Type S school bus drivers to various provisions of law applicable to school bus drivers, such as criminal history record check requirements and various offenses that disqualify someone from serving as a bus driver.

Other provisions of law that would be amended to include Type S bus drivers include:

  • Consequences of knowingly operating a bus transporting students while the driver’s driving privileges have been suspended or revoked.
  • Consequences of leaving a pupil on the bus at the end of the driver’s route.
  • Consequences of certain motor vehicle violations.

NJSBA recognizes that COVID-19 has exacerbated longstanding challenges posed to district operations by nationwide school bus driver shortages. NJSBA supports this legislation for its potential to relieve those challenges while ensuring proper training and safeguards to maintain student safety.

The bill now heads to the Assembly floor. As of May 13, its Senate counterpart, S-2152, had not moved.

Electronic School Bus Program A-1282 would establish a $45 million, three-year grant program in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Program to help determine the operational reliability and cost effectiveness of replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses.

Under the program, NJDEP would select at least six districts and bus contractors in each year through a competitive grant process, with a focus on low-income communities, urban communities and communities that have been determined by NJDEP to have been burdened with environmental justice issues.  NJDEP may not award more than half of the grants to contractors. Grants would support the purchase, lease, or installation of electric school buses and electric school bus charging infrastructure.

The bill would require NJDEP to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature within six months following the conclusion of the program. The report would include, among other information, recommendations for how additional funding may be distributed to maximize the number of electric school buses operating in the State.

NJSBA supports the bill. Following approval by the Assembly Transportation & Independent Authorities Committee, it was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Its Senate counterpart, S-759, was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee and awaits consideration by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

To view the full text of any of the bills summarized above, visit the New Jersey Legislature’s website.