By Bill Kaczor, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Legislation that would permit advertising on the outside of Florida school buses narrowly survived its first committee hearing Monday. Critics said they’re worried about unintended consequences.

The bill (SB 344) cleared the Senate Prekindergarten-12 Committee on Monday by a 4-2 vote. It would have died without support from one of those critics, Sen. Larcenia Bullard. The Miami Democrat said she voted for the measure only to give the sponsor, Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, a chance to make it more palatable.

“This, quite frankly, is a desperate move,” Montford acknowledged. “But it’s one that’s necessary.”

Montford, also CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said the state requires cash-strapped school districts to transport students, but it provides just under half of the money needed to pay for that service.

The bill has been referred to two more committees in the Senate, where Montford will have a chance to offer changes. A similar bill (HB 19) has been filed in the House but has not yet had a committee hearing.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was among those concerned about unintended consequences but also said such advertising would exacerbate inequities among children.

The Wellington Republican said she didn’t want children to start and end their school day by “seeing on the side of a bus a product they can’t afford or something that children can use to tease each other” about what one has and another doesn’t have.

In voting for the bill, though, Sen. Thad Altman, R-Viera, said he thought plain yellow school buses are boring.

“I’d kind of like to see them jazzed up a little bit,” Altman said. “If it’s done right, it could be fun.”

Montford said the ads would have to be low-key.

“School buses will continue to look like school buses,” he said.

Altman suggested the buses also could be used to advertise school events such as plays and football games as well as commercial products.

Bullard was worried about alcoholic beverages. The bill prohibits ads for such beverages as well as tobacco and other products inappropriate for children, but a Senate staff analysis noted such restrictions might be challenged in court.

Montford said schools have allowed advertising at athletic stadiums for years without any such problems. Also banned would be political ads as well as messages that are discriminatory in nature or content or imply an endorsement by the school district.

Besides the superintendents group, the legislation has the support of the Florida School Boards Association.

Martha Harbin, executive director of the Florida Beverage Association, which represents soft drink and other nonalcoholic beverage bottlers, told the panel her members won’t be putting ads on school buses because they have a policy against advertising aimed at children under 13.

The bill would allocate half of any proceeds to transportation and allow another 25 percent to be spent at the discretion of school officials. The remaining 25 percent would be placed in endowment funds to match private contributions to the schools.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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