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Missouri House votes to loosen age requirements for school bus driver license exam

Ritenour School District school buses are parked in a lot on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Husky Support Center in Overland. The district received a 9.45 million dollar grant to fund an electrical bus fleet.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Ritenour School District school buses are parked in a lot on Tuesday at the Husky Support Center in Overland. Missouri House members passed legislation Thursday that raises the age when school bus drivers must annually take the school bus portion of the driver’s license exam for renewal.

The Missouri House passed legislation Thursday to raise the age when a school bus driver must take a test to get their license renewed annually from 70 to 77.

Currently, once a school bus driver reaches 70, their license is only issued or renewed for a year at a time. In order to retain their school bus endorsement on their license, they must take the school bus portion of the driver’s license exam annually.

The bill would make the age when that annual renewal requirement begins 77.

The House voted 114-29 to pass the legislation, after giving it initial approval earlier in the week.

Speaking Monday, bill sponsor Rep. Danny Busick, R-Newtown, said these annual requirements are pushing a lot of school bus drivers out.

“I really feel that schools are the arbiters of whether, if somebody is over 70 years old, if they have the cognitive ability to drive a bus. The state only sees them for a couple hours, but the school sees them every day, and so this should be a school issue,” Busick said.

Rep. Jim Kalberloh, R-Lowry City, sponsored the bill last session. He said he knows several school bus drivers who stopped driving at age 70 because of the current requirements.

“They said, ‘I am not going to go take another test again.’ And they would have been good to drive for another five or 10 years,” Kalberloh said.

While most House Democrats voted against the legislation, they were not united on the bill. Members also voted for and present on the bill. On the Republican side, only one member voted present.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said Thursday that he understood the motivation behind the bill and that the state does have a problem recruiting and retaining bus drivers.

“That said, I don't think that this is the way to fix the problem of a bus driver shortage,” Merideth said. “Pay is usually the No. 1 way that we make sure that we have enough workers to do a job, treating them well, making sure that their working conditions are positive, that's how we make sure we have enough drivers.”

Merideth also said he would rather expand those annual requirements to include all drivers.

“Rather than increase the age to an older age, I would say we should just have all of our drivers tested each year and make sure that they're still capable of being safe drivers for our children,” Merideth said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.