Reports show committee issues with Nathan's Law - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Reports show committee issues with Nathan's Law

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter

JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - These are the back and forth reports between 3 state senators and 3 representatives. Reports which would place senate bill 25-05, known as "Nathan's Law" onto a stack of "not this year."

"It was very disheartening that one would not see the importance," said Lori Key.

Key is the mother of 5-year-old Nathan, who was killed after stepping off his school bus by a driver too impatient too wait. After her son's death, Lori and her husband Andy, with the help of local lawmakers drafted "Nathan's Law" and set out to improve school bus safety in the state, only to get so far.

"The things that they took out of the bill were just absolutely flabbergasting, why would you not want the children in the state of Mississippi to be safer," said Key.

The bill passed the senate but got caught up in a house committee, chaired by Representative Ed Blackmon, who Key says, after viewing the reports, is the main reason "Nathan's Law" isn't law.

"It makes me more aware of the fact that Mr. Blackmon had no intension to allow this bill to go through," said Key.

In the reports, the house members removed certain aspects from "Nathan's Law" such as minimums for fines and using only an "up to" amount.

"That could be $0, to $750 and what does that say for somebody who is standing in court and they've passed a stopped school bus and they just get a thump on the forehead, not even a slap on the wrist," said Key.

Blackmon says the change was part of the negotiations and he himself may not have supported it in the end.

"I don't know that I would have, that was a suggestion by some of the committee members and that was in one version of a conference report, just as we made numerous changes there," said Blackmon.

Other changes were removing a 30 foot buffer zone around a stopped school bus, a no cell phone zone and making the owner of the suspect vehicle responsible for the crime.

"You take everything away from their safety when you look at these conference reports and see what they've removed," said Key.

According to the reports, the senate conceded on all of it. But, one of the major issues between the house and senate was using the aggravated assault statute for the crime if injury occurs. Blackmon says the assault statute could carry up to 20 years, where as "Nathan's Law" was asking for only 5 . Key says the problem with that is proving intent, which Blackmon says isn't the case.

"You don't have to show intent if you show that there was reckless disregard for life involved," said Blackmon.

"I personally called all 22 district attorneys officers in the state of Mississippi. More of those than not stated to me the aggravated assault would not be something that they could prosecute for," said Key.

With "Nathan's Law" no longer a debate this year at the capitol, Blackmon says the finger shouldn't be pointed at the house.

"Negotiations was stopped by the Senate, not us. The senate simply stopped and decided they were not going to continue the effort to resolve whatever issue we had," said Blackmon.

Representative Blackmon says he's received plenty of criticism, but says it's unfounded. Blackmon says he was never against "Nathan's Law" and accuses local legislators of using it for political gain.

"I've been criticized all down that way by people, by a few Senators who, and other operatives, who seem to have some type of political advantage and it's just hogwash. It's political hogwash, to say that. And I don't know what their political agendas are but it's certainly not in the interest of any child they're trying to protect," said Blackmon.

Lori Key says she will be back during the next legislative session and is already making rounds across the state with petitions demanding lawmakers pass "Nathan's Law" as it was originally introduced in the senate, where it passed unanimously.

Copyright 2010 WDAM. All rights reserved.

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