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Howes sponsors bills relating to annexation, school buses

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, recently detailed two bills he has authored — one dealing with school buses and the other with annexation.

The annexation bill, H.F. 753 would allow property owners whose land sits on a municipal boundary line to petition to have their land detached and annexed from one city to another, providing that at least one city supports the change. Under current law both cities must support the proposed annexation.

With the support of a resolution from one of the affected cities a property owner could take the case to an administrative law judge who would have the power to order the detachment and annexation.

“If (the judge) sees that it’s going to harm one of the cities or that owner or other owners, they’re not going to follow through with that,” Howes said in a news release.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House floor. It has no Senate companion.

Howes said it is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Association of Townships.

Opponents include Bruce Messelt, city administrator for Lake Elmo, who warned that the bill could revive costly “border wars” — expensive legal battles that occurred before the law was changed in 2006 to require support from both cities.

Howes’ school bus legislation, H.F. 392, would require all school buses used in the state that are manufactured after Jan. 1, to be equipped with a crossing control arm on the front right bumper that automatically expands out whenever the bus is stopped and the flashing red lights are in use.

The bill was introduced after an incident about 18 months ago when a child died from being hit by a bus in the Pine River-Backus School District.

Approved by the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, the bill awaits action by the House Education Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

“We feel this is a proactive decision by our group to help alleviate transportation tragedies,” said Tom Keliher, a lobbyist representing the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association. “If an elementary school student is too close, the driver cannot see them over the hood.”

Keliher said it costs about $300-$350 for a new bus to have the approximately 8-foot arm. “A new school bus is about $80,000 to $95,000, so $300 to put a crossing arm on the front is a very miniscule price,” he said, adding costs to retrofit all current buses could get “very expensive.”

Howes said many buses in the Twin Cities metropolitan area already have such a crossing arm, partially because districts require them in bus operator contracts, but it is rare in northern Minnesota.

“That’s why I want to do it statewide,” he said.

Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, expressed concern about forcing kids off a crosswalk if the bus driver pulls up to close to a busy cross-street and the arm extends out too far.