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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Pickups as school buses in Iowa? Bill comes with caveats

Measure envisions only extracurricular use
By Rod Boshart, The Gazette | Feb 15, 2018

DES MOINES — Pickup trucks as school buses?

That’s what the title of Senate Study Bill 3186 says.

But a panel of senators said Wednesday said they are narrowing the legislation so it would allow school districts to use pickup trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds to transport students to extracurricular activities as long as the students — up to nine including the driver — are in the truck cab and wearing seat belts.

The impetus of the legislation, said Sen. Waylon Brown, R-St. Ansgar, was a situation where Sheldon school officials ran afoul of a 2006 state administrative rule. It barred them from allowing students to use a pickup truck the school had acquired for members of its Future Farmers of America chapter to transport their produce and products to points of sale or distribution.

Members of a Senate Transportation subcommittee set out to craft language narrowly allowing the use of pickups to transport students in specific situations, Brown said. “The intent of this is not for students to be transferred to school as an alternative for a bus.”

As envisioned, the legislation would set weight limits for what could be carried in the truck bed and no students would be allowed if the pickup was being used for towing.

“We’d like to continue to give high-school aged kids some responsibilities on what they can handle and right now we feel the door is closed on some opportunities that we think they could handle and we want to find out why that door is closed and if it needs to be opened, then we want to open that back up again so that these FFA kids cannot only produce their products, but distribute and sell their products,” said Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, a subcommittee member.

“This is just an avenue that we can get some local control back to the school and say the state doesn’t want to stand in your way. If you choose to do that with your school, you’re welcome to do that with your school,” he added.

Ryan Wise, director of the state Department of Education, declined to comment on the legislation because he had not seen the bill, But he noted the safety of students is the top priority for any state school transportation policy.

The bill was approved by the full Senate Transportation Committee later Wednesday and sent to the debate calendar.

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