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School bus cameras survive as Senate debates safety legislation

Feb 28, 2014 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- With the death of a Fremont County girl on their minds, Wyoming state senators has embraced the idea of the state helping school districts equip their school buses with cameras to catch motorists who illegally pass buses stopped to pick up and drop off students.

The Wyoming Senate on Thursday rejected on a 17-11 vote a proposal by the Senate Appropriations Committee that would have stripped the bill of its $5 million appropriation to help school districts pay for the cameras.

"$5 million, $500 million, I don't care what it is, you can't put a cost on the life of the future of our children," said Sen. Wayne Johnson, R-Cheyenne.

House Bill 5 faces two more votes on the Senate floor.

It is estimated that buses are passed illegally in Wyoming about 52,000 times every year.

In 2011, an 11-year-old girl was struck and killed in Fremont County as she crossed a highway after getting off a school bus that had its flashing lights activated.

The man convicted of three misdemeanor charges in the death of the Wind River Elementary School student was sentenced to roughly 10 months at the Fremont County Detention Center.

MaKayla Marie Strahle, 11, of Crowheart, died Dec. 20, 2011, after William "Dean" Barnes hit her with his car after she exited the school bus.

Supporters of the bill say it would help reduce the illegal drive-bys because perpetrators are more likely to be caught.

However, opponents pointed to the cost of retrofitting school buses with the cameras and suggested the money would be better spent on a public education campaign.

Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said even if the bill becomes law, it's unrealistic to presume that illegal drive-bys will stop and there will be no more tragedies like what happened in Fremont County.

"The reality is, it's going to happen even if we catch them and fine them," Hicks said.

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