Two versions of "Nathan's Law"; one not sitting well with senators

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

JACKSON, MS (WDAM) - Thursday morning began the latest battle over legislation aimed at increasing school bus safety across the state known as "Nathan's Law." Legislation Senator Chris McDaniel says is too important for politics to get in the way of.

"For all the talk we here about bipartisan solutions to the problems of today. If we can't find a bipartisan solution to our most pressing problems then why are we even here," said McDaniel.

The legislation stems from the death of five year old Nathan Key of Jones County who was killed by an impatient driver after stepping off his school bus back in December of 2009. A senate version failed in a house committee last year after passing the senate.

"It was unanimous in the senate. The only roadblock was the chairman of Jud. A, period," said McDaniel

That chairman is Representative Ed Blackmon, who introduced his own bill in memory of Nathan Key, which passed the house Wednesday. Supporters of the senate version authored by Senator McDaniel say the house version is not only a watered down version but actually weakens current law.

"The bill that was passed by the house of representatives is not Nathan's Law," said Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant who backs the senate version.

"What they've done on the house side and the committee that actually presented and submitted this has insulted my child," said Nathan's mother Lori Key. "It is not the real Nathan's Law."

"Nor how could it be," McDaniel added. "They did not consult the family, they did not consult me, they did not consult the research we had done over the past year."

Under the house version, anyone who hits a child while passing a stopped school bus could be charged with aggravated assault. Problem is, McDaniel says, prosecutors would have to prove intent.

Also under the house version, the current law's $200 minimum fine would be taken out.

Attempts to contact Rep. Blackmon were unsuccessful.

The senate version is just as it was last year and calls for increased fines and imprisonment for violators.

"The memory of this young man can not be placed on a bill that weakens existing law," said McDaniel.

Backers of the senate bill say they're willing to negotiate but won't concede to the house version.

"It is beyond my ability to understand why we can not simply come together to strengthen the laws that will protect our children on school buses," said Bryant. "This should not be difficult."

Even if "Nathan's Law," yet again, doesn't become law, supporters say they will stop at nothing until it does.

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