Child's death leads to bus safety bill

JACKSON – The name of a 5-year-old Jones County boy who was tragically killed last month after getting off his school bus has been given to legislation introduced this session.
If the Legislature approves it, “Nathan’s Law” would strengthen the penalties for drivers illegally passing a stopped school bus.
Nathan Key was struck and killed by a driver in early December as he crossed the street after getting off a school bus near his home.
The child’s parents, Lori and Andy Key, attended a news conference at the state Capitol with Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant where the introduction of the legislation was announced.
While the accident in Jones County resulted in a fatality, officials at Monday’s news conference said close calls occur throughout the year. Last week, for instance, a 4-year-old was injured while trying to board a bus on Lawndale Drive in Tupelo. In that instance, the youngster was treated and released.
“An outright disregard for a school child’s life should not go unpunished. Nathan’s Law makes it an automatic felony for anyone convicted under this statute when an injury or death occurs,” Bryant said at a solemn news conference. “I want to send a loud and clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated in Mississippi.”
Andy Key said, “No parent should ever have to experience what we have been through. People need to understand this is something that cannot happen. We think this is a good step toward doing that.”
Sen. Chris McDaniel, a Jones County Republican who is introducing the bill, said a driver who injures a child at a school bus would face a felony charge with punishment of up to 5 years in prison.
Current law says a driver who passes a stopped school bus while children are present could face $200-$500 in fines or up to one year in prison.
Plus, McDaniel said the penalty for passing a stopped bus would rise from a maximum of $500 to a maximum of $5,000, along with a driver’s license suspension and possible incarceration.
The bill also would:
* Create a 30-foot buffer zone at a school bus stop.
* Prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones in school crossing zones.
* Require school bus safety to be part of the exam to obtain a drivers license.
* Encourage the state to develop a marketing campaign on school bus safety.
* Allow school districts to place cameras on the bus stop arms to develop evidence that could be used in court.
* Create a task force on school bus safety.
Contact Bobby Harrison at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or (601) 353-3119.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal