Illinois House approves doubling fines for drivers who pass stopped school buses

Proposal would increase fines; opponents say it would create financial hardship for offenders

SPRINGFIELD – Drivers who do not stop for school buses could see their ticket fines double under a proposed state law that passed the House on Thursday.

House Bill 1873, sponsored by state Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, doubles the fine for first offenses from $150 to $300 and from $500 to $1,000 for second offenses.

It passed the House on Thursday morning by a 74-16 vote, with 12 representatives voting present after extended and heated debate.

Bailey called the bill a matter of “public safety to protect schoolchildren as they load and unload off buses.”

Critics said increasing penalties don’t deter people from violating the law, and only provide extra hardships for those who already have difficulties paying fines.

State Rep. Melissa Conyears-Ervin, D-Chicago, was the first to voice her opposition, saying she could not support the bill if the public is not educated about it simultaneously.

“Residents that can’t pay it may lose their license; may, in turn, not be able to go to work; and may, in turn, not be able to put food on the table for their children,” Conyears-Ervin said.

“There are people that will have no clue of this legislation, and all the bill will do is put them in a deeper hole.”

Bailey said he’d be willing to work with her on educating the public about the change in fine structure because education “is what will raise the awareness to protect our children.”

Others, such as state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said a driver’s first violation of the law should be enough education.

HB 1873 changes only the fine structure for school bus violations. It does not change other provisions of current law for drivers to have their licenses suspended for three months for first violations and for a year for second violations.

In those cases, drivers can apply to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office for a restricted driver’s permit, which allows them to drive to and from work.

State Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, one of the bill’s sponsors, said even with the doubled fines, Illinois’ laws for failing to stop for school buses are weak.

“I’m sitting over here stunned that we’re putting the price tag to say [an extra] $150 is too much for a school kid,” Batinick said.

He referenced other states’ penalties, some of which include jail time and fines as much as $10,000.

Minnesota, he said, has a $500 fine and 90 days of jail time for a first offense.

“We’re at the low end of the fines on this, which is probably why it keeps happening, because nobody cares about the fine,” Batinick said.

Bailey said Illinois school bus drivers reported more than 20,000 instances where buses were passed while the “stop” arm was out in 2017, according to a survey by ABC 7 in Chicago.

Opponents maintained that doubling fines is regressive and only would result in financial hurt for those who can’t pay them.

“This bill is based on a flawed premise,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago. “The idea [is] that by raising penalties on certain types of behaviors, we will deter those behaviors. Raising the fines isn’t going to keep our kids any safer. It will just take more money out of the pockets of people who can least afford it.”

HB 1873 was quickly placed on the Senate’s calendar to be heard for the first time Friday.