The measure passed the house with just one nay vote, and now Senate bill 2472, or Nathan's Law, is headed to the governor's desk for his signature.
It's named after Nathan Key, a five-year-old Jones County boy who was killed by passing motorist Dominic Gebben as he stepped off a school bus. Gebben received 20 years in prison for manslaughter and two years for fleeing the scene of the accident.
Nathan's father, Andy Key, received applause after the vote Saturday morning. "My hope and prayer is that no other family has to go through what Lori and I have gone through," Key says. "Hopefully this bill will not only increase awareness, but with the education piece, will also educate younger children, teenagers and adults... there's only one reason they stop and put the sign out, and that's for kids to get on, get off."
The bill clarifies the offense of passing a stopped school bus, increases the fines for offenses, prohibits the use of a wireless device such as a cell phone in school crossings without hands-free accessories, and prohibits bus drivers from using such devices. It also requires education campaigns on school bus safety.
There was some confusion this year, because Representative Ed Blackmon had introduced a separate Nathan's Law bill that Andy and Lori Key were unaware of.
But the bill they support prevailed. "They just took the better portions of both bills and put them in," Andy Key says.
Senator Chris McDaniel of Jones County sponsored the original bill, and fought side by side with the family to get it passed. "The Keys are exceptional people. They deserve the credit, they worked hard. It's remarkable that they could take something so tragic and turn it into something so remarkable to protect Mississippi children for the next 100 years," Senator McDaniel says.
Lori Key was not present for the vote. She spent her Saturday attending the 2nd annual Ride for Nathan's Law. It's a motorcycle ride that the Keys and their other four children hope will spread even more awareness.
"Hug 'em every chance you get, because you never know," Andy Key says.
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