AVON LAKE - Drivers ignoring school bus stop signs will face tougher punishment in Avon Lake, effective immediately. City council voted 7-0 Monday to increase fines and add jail time to motorists illegally passing a bus that is loading or unloading students.

The law increases the fine from $500 to $750. It gives a judge the discretion to impose up to a 30-day jail sentence for offenders.

The law, introduced Aug. 19, was tabled after Avon Lake resident Gerald Phillips, an attorney and activist, questioned its legality during public discussion last week. He said viewed the proposal as flawed because there already is a state law in place outlining punishment for illegally passing school buses.

City law director Abe Lieberman researched Phillips’ assertions. He shared his legal opinion with Council on Aug. 23.

"Where we agree with Mr. Phillips is that the law is a general law and a police law, but we disagree with him because we believe we can add to the law," Lieberman said.

After reading Lieberman's legal opinion, Phillips said, "I still believe it's unconstitutional. You can't increase a state traffic violation to a misdemeanor crime. The issue here is lack of enforcement."

Council member David Kos, who proposed the law in June, was confident it would pass. "People illegally passing school buses has been a problem, and we'd like to send a message that will act as a deterrent," he said on Monday.

Avon Lake resident John Shondel, who is a grandfather of a 7-year-old, told council passing a stopped school bus is not a minor traffic violation, but a “potential vehicular homicide against our most vulnerable children, who, in most cases are not even teenagers.”

“The penalty must fit the offense and passing a stopped school bus is a deadly serious crime," he said.

Mayor Greg Zilka said the city will work with the school district to help pay for video surveillance cameras to be installed on the side of all its school buses within the next six months. This, he said, will help in the prosecution of those who pass a school bus with its red lights flashing.

Contact this reporter at: msakal@westlifenews.com, or call 440-871-5797.

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