For Nathan, but brakes behind buses

Published 12:21 am Sunday, January 16, 2011

Most of us have been there at least once.

The morning is not going as planned. The coffee is lukewarm. Arriving late to work is close to unavoidable.

The car turns onto the main road and … ugh … a school bus sits feet ahead. The red lights flash as children climb aboard. Fifty feet farther up the road, the bus stops again. And again, another 50 feet and a stop.

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Most people will scoff and complain, but will never dream of trying to pass a school bus no matter how late one is for work.

But there is an element of our society who do pass school buses, putting themselves and, more importantly, throngs of school children in danger.

Now, the Mississippi Legislature is again mulling the aptly named “Nathan’s Law,” which would enhance penalties for those who get caught passing school buses.

The law was inspired by the 2009 death of a Jones County 5-year-old named Nathan Key. The boy was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver who passed the school bus in front of Nathan’s home. Dominic Gebben, 23, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for after being convicted of manslaughter and culpable negligence.

A move for passage of the bill failed last year. It is the sincere hope that this bill will find passage this year. In 2010, the Mississippi House and Senate passed different versions, but it fell apart in a House-Senate conference committee.

The proposed law gained traction Wednesday when the House passed the measure 118-0.

The House bill would raise the penalty for drivers who pass a stopped school bus to $750 on a first offense and double that for a second offense, if committed within two years. Second offenders also will lose their driving privileges for 90 days.

On Thursday, though, state Senate leaders lambasted the House version as weak and less effective than last year’s. Then on Friday, the Senate passed its own version.

The hope, of course, is that leaders can come together in the House and Senate and hash out a bill with teeth. Legislative grandstanding must not stand in the way of this important measure.

Nathan Key never made it to first grade because a driver passed a stopped bus. This law might not stop every fool, but if we get one off the road and spare one Nathan, it is worth passage.