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School bus ads traveling through House

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Yellow school buses could be emblazoned with ads promoting sneakers, power drinks or television shows under a proposal making its way through the Florida legislature.

The House Education Committee gave the thumbs-up to the proposal, already in place in 15 other states, that could raise up to $100 million statewide for cash-strapped school districts struggling to cover transportation costs for students, according to bill co-sponsor Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton.

The proposal (HB 19) would give school boards the ability to contract for ads on school buses but would ban advertisements for pari-mutuel or Internet gambling or political or religious promotions.

Half of the money generated by the ads would have to be spent on transportation costs and 10 percent would go for drivers education classes if the districts offer them.

“Obviously the state of Florida, we’re in a tough spot,” Slosberg told the panel before the 14-3 vote in favor of his measure. “There’s no money. So what do we do? Do we let the kids walk to school? Do we lay off teachers? This is a creative way to raise revenue and not increase our taxes and not increase our fees.”

But critics of the measure questioned whether children, especially kindergartners, already bombarded by advertisements should be subjected to even more propaganda with the tacit endorsement of their school.

Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, said the bill gave him an “uneasy feeling” although schools already have advertisements in place on football fields or in gymnasiums.

“It has to do with this concept of endorsement,” Bileca, who voted against the measure, said. “It’s the idea that a trusted source…is saying that this is ok.”

The Florida PTA opposes the measure.

Two advertisements up to two by six feet in size could be posted on the buses, which some opponents said could create a distraction for drivers and endanger students’ safety.

“We’re dealing with children, three, four five years old,” Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami, objected. “That’s an early age to be bombarded with advertisements…I don’t think it’s fair.”

Slosberg, whose daughter died in an automobile accident, bristled at safety concerns.

“My daughter died in a car crash. I’d be the last guy in the world to want to endanger anyone’s life, especially our children, by putting advertising on our buses,” Slosberg said. “If I thought that…I would never have brought this bill forward.”

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