A measure establishing stricter screening procedures and harsher penalties to guard against school bus drivers with drunken-driving records passed the New Jersey Senate on Sept. 21.

Backers said the bill, S-508, is needed to protect children traveling to and from school.

Under the bill, a driver would be required to undergo a check for alcohol and drug-related motor vehicle violations and a criminal history record check, prior to employment and upon application for license renewal.

Drivers would be permanently disqualified from employment if they were convicted at least two times within 10 years on driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol charges or for refusing to submit to a test. The driver would also be disqualified for one conviction of drunken driving while transporting school children.

School boards or contractors who hire unauthorized drivers would be subject to $5,000 fines per driver. Drivers newly convicted of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while transporting children would also be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and subject to a jail sentence of up to one year.

In addition, the bill removes the existing grace period that allows school bus drivers to work while in the process of becoming properly licensed.

The bill now heads to the state Assembly for consideration.