UPDATE: Miss. lawmaker to propose school bus legislation

JACKSON — A Mississippi lawmaker said Monday he was filing legislation to impose tighter restrictions on school bus drivers and harsher penalties on motorists who illegally pass stopped school vehicles.

State Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, said he decided to file the comprehensive the proposal after the death of 5-year-old Nathan Key of Laurel.

The child was struck by a car and killed Dec. 11 after he got off of a school bus in front of his home. Authorities have charged Dominic Gebben with manslaughter and felony fleeing the scene. Gebben was accused of trying to pass the stopped school bus.

McDaniel said his bill would be filed by Tuesday. He said similar legislation proposed last year died in committee.

“It sometimes takes a tragedy to focus us,” McDaniel said. “People are passing these school buses — inexplicably — but it’s happening in this state.”

Under current law, a driver that passes a stopped school bus while children are present faces up to a $500 fine and one year in prison.

McDaniel’s proposal would increase mandatory sanctions to up to a $5,000 fine, one year in jail and a 30-day license suspension on a first offense. He said a violation resulting in death or injury of a child would be a newly defined felony and the offender could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

McDaniel’s proposal also seeks to create a 30-foot buffer zone around a stopped school bus; prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones while driving and authorize school districts to mount cameras on school bus stop arms to record a motorist violating the law.

Nathan’s parents, Lori and Andy Key, joined McDaniel and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant at the state Capitol for a news conference to discuss the proposal.

Andy Key said he’s hopeful the measure will gain support this session.

“No parent should ever have to experience what we’ve been through,” Andy Key said. “People need to understand that this is something that just can’t happen.”

Shelia Byrd/The Associated Press