AUGUSTA, Maine — Drivers illegally pass school buses all too often in our country, and Maine is no exception.
Illegally passing a school bus is a criminal offense, and there is a fine -- but some lawmakers don't think that penalty goes far enough.
There are so many videos of near-miss accidents; cars caught on surveillance video, driving past a stopped school bus and narrowly missing students crossing the street.
Lennie Goff is the transportation director for RSU 18.
"It's a school bus driver's worst nightmare."
Goff says cars passing stopped school buses full of children happens almost daily.
"The red lights, all lights on the buses, and we still have people in vehicles going by."
Illegally passing a school bus is a criminal offense. The minimum fine is $250.
Rep. Genevieve McDonald is proposing a bill that would double that amount. It would also give a judge the option to suspend a drivers' license for no more than 30 days -- for the first offense. Then, not less than 30 days for the second and subsequent offenses.
"For it to be illegal passing, there is a student getting on and off the bus, and so the potential for harm is really grievous," said McDonald.
Legislators in the Transportation Committee listened to testimony both for and against the bill on Tuesday.
Goff told lawmakers about a close call with a student in his district.
"I had one child that almost had her cell phone knocked out of her hand by a car that drove past the bus."
One group opposing the bill is the American Civil Liberties Union.
Policy Council Meagan Sway says while the ACLU strongly believes in child safety and recognizes the danger of drivers passing school buses, they have concerns about the license suspension and increase of the mandatory minimum fine.
Sway says mandatory fines would constrain judges from applying sanctions that are appropriate to an individual defendant and could make it unfair to the people who can't afford it.
"They're problematic because they exacerbate the problem of poor and rich people and how they experience the criminal justice system."
Sway urged the committee to leave the law as is and focus on education.
McDonald says that's not enough.
"I understand the impact a loss of a license can have on somebody's livelihood, but a loss of a child outweighs that."
School bus drivers, who have had too many close calls, agree with McDonald and testified accordingly.
"If we don't make some noise, this is not going to stop," one woman said. She also had a strong message for lawmakers. "God forbid it's one of your children or grandchildren that gets killed."
The next step for this bill will be a work session and then a committee vote.