Nevada lawmakers voted Thursday to spend nearly $2.7 million to replace hazardous buses used to haul prison fire crews to and from forest fires.
The lawmakers' Interim Finance Committee approved a recommendation from the state Board of Examiners to replace 70 Carpenter Bus Co. buses. The 12-passenger rigs have cracked welds and failed safety inspections.
The weld problems surfaced as a result of a wreck last year in Florida, when a Carpenter bus rolled and its roof collapsed down to the seats. The driver was injured. No students were on board.
A federal safety advisory recommended that any Carpenter buses identified as having bad welds be taken out of service and replaced, or be repaired if possible. The company has gone out of business.
While some IFC members were critical of the spending plan, Sen. Ray Rawson, R-Las Vegas, said, "It's not a matter of whether we like it or not. We can't go without our fire crews."
Assemblyman John Marvel, R-Battle Mountain, moved for IFC approval, saying that without a proper vehicle fleet to haul the inmate crews during this year's fire season the state "is going to be in peril."
State Forester Steve Robinson said the money will be used to quickly buy 32 15-passenger vans and order 15 crew carriers that will take longer to get but are needed for off-road access. Also, 46 tool trailers will be purchased to haul the firefighters' gear.
State Budget Director Perry Comeaux said a review of Nevada's 17 school districts showed that several districts with Carpenter buses have taken steps to repair or replace them.
Nevada Highway Patrol Chief David Hosmer said the problem with the inmate buses, ranging in age from 13 to 20 years, was that they had been used off-road and were in much worse shape than any of the school buses.
In Clark County, the state's most populous area, 23 buses already have been replaced. In Washoe County, 23 defective buses were taken off the road and most are being replaced through a lease-purchase program.
The money for the inmate bus replacements will come from a state fund reserved for fiscal emergencies. The Interim Finance Committee doles out money from that fund between the lawmakers' regular sessions. The next session won't convene until next February.