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Miss. school bus safety bill headed to Barbour

Andy Key watched quietly from the Mississippi House balcony Saturday as lawmakers passed the final version of a school bus safety bill aimed at preventing the kind of tragedy his family experienced in 2009.

He held up his cell phone so his wife Lori, who was home in Laurel, could hear the brief discussion before the 117-1 House vote.

“My hope and prayer is that no other family will have to go through what we have gone through,“ Andy Key said moments later in a Capitol hallway.

The Keys’ 5-year-old son, Nathan, was killed two years ago after being hit by a passing vehicle after exiting a school bus in Jones County.

Senators on Friday unanimously passed the bill known as Nathan’s Law. The bill goes to Gov. Haley Barbour, and spokeswoman Laura Hipp said he will read it before deciding whether to sign it into law.

The bill would require motorists to stay at least 10 feet from a stopped school bus. Violators could be fined up to $750 for a first offense. On a second offense, violators face a fine and up to a year in prison.

The bill also would prohibit school bus drivers from using cell phones while transporting children, except in cases of emergency.

House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said that on a four-lane highway, drivers would not be required to stop for a school bus that’s coming from the opposite direction. He said school bus drivers on four-lane highways are not allowed to let children to walk across the highway after exiting the bus.

This is the second year legislators considered bills named in honor of Nathan Key. In 2010, the House and Senate couldn’t agree on specifics because of concerns about setting penalties that might be weaker than those already on the books for aggravated assault.

Nathan Key was the fourth of Andy and Lori Keys’ five children. Andy Key said their younger children rarely ride the school bus since Nathan was killed.

The bill is Senate Bill 2472.