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Tougher Tennessee school bus rules among laws taking effect

The Associated Press - NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - School bus drivers must be at least 25 years old in Tennessee starting New Year's Day under one of 16 new state laws taking effect.

Lawmakers made the change in reaction to a November 2016 school bus crash that killed six elementary school children. The driver, Johnthony Walker, was 24 at the time.

Authorities say Walker was speeding and had received a cellphone call before he wrecked the bus on a curvy Chattanooga road that was carrying 37 children. The 25-year-old faces 34 charges, including six counts of vehicular homicide.

The law also requires a school bus driver safety program, five consecutive years of driving experience for drivers and appointment of school district and charter school transportation supervisors.

But it stops short of requiring new school buses in Tennessee to be equipped with seat belts, a legislative push that fell flat in the General Assembly early in 2017.

MORE: 16 new laws set to take effect in Tennessee on Jan. 1

A variety of other laws that passed during the 2017 legislative session also take effect Monday.

One will require Tennessee public colleges and universities to spell out free speech policies, including a provision that prevents blocking speakers on campus whose anticipated speech may be considered "offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed."

Drivers of any vehicle will now face a maximum $50 fine for talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving in an active school zone. Drivers under 18 also wouldn't be allowed to use hands-free phone devices and would face up to a $50 fine for it.

And drivers will only be allowed lights on the front of their cars, flashing or otherwise, that are white, amber or some combination of the two.

People also will not be allowed to buy used cars that have been recalled until the dealer has fixed the issue. And after 30 days of waiting for a repair part, the manufacturer will have to pay the dealer 1 percent monthly of the car's trade-in value while the car isn't allowed to be sold.

Another new law adds five new courts in Tennessee to a program that aims to help children from troubled homes by establishing "Zero to Three Initiative Courts" within either a Juvenile Court or General Sessions Court.

Legislation that will let trained soldiers bypass firing range requirements for a state handgun permit also takes effect Monday.

The General Assembly starts its next months-long session of lawmaking Jan. 9.


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