Few issues have fired up the New Mexico Senate this session like a bill to require air conditioning on school buses in hot locales.After a vigorous, hourlong debate Saturday, senators defeated the …
Few issues have fired up the New Mexico Senate this session like a bill to require air conditioning on school buses in hot locales.
After a vigorous, hourlong debate Saturday, senators defeated the proposal by a vote of 23-16.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsor of Senate Bill 321, said installing air conditioners on school buses is a matter of public safety. The state is responsible for buying the buses. Drivers and kids are better protected if they are kept comfortable, he said.
Skeptical colleagues gave him an earful. Many called his proposal a needless expense or one that should be authorized by school boards, not dictated by state government.
Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales, said New Mexico has a healthy budget surplus now, but it would be drained with irresponsible spending such as Steinborn's bill.
"We're like a homeless person that wins the lottery and is broke again in two years," Sapien said.
The Public Education Department listed the cost of a school bus at $85,000. A single-unit air conditioner on a new bus adds $6,500 to the expense. A dual-unit air conditioner runs $11,500.
Retrofitting older buses would be even more expensive – $9,400 for one unit and $17,000 for the dual option.
Steinborn pointed out that his bill wouldn't immediately require any spending. Rather, it would apply to an undetermined number of new buses bought after July 1, 2020.
But Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said the state shouldn't decide which hotspots across New Mexico need to cool their school buses. School boards need to make that decision and figure out how to pay for air conditioning, Ingle said.
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