Senator Chris McDaniel’s Weekly Column, April 11, 2011

 

With tensions running high last week, it was difficult to find good news.  As the 2011 session continued, significant disagreements over redistricting dominated conversations between the House and Senate.

Nevertheless, we were proud to witness a historic and touching event when Governor Barbour signed Nathan’s Law, making it a part of Mississippi’s statutory code.

Nathan’s Law is named in honor of Nathan Key, the 5-year-old son of Lori and Andy Key, who was struck and killed by a reckless driver that refused to stop for his school bus.

By all accounts, Nathan was a remarkable treasure.  His boyish grin epitomized the innocence of childhood.  A happy, cute-faced, gap-toothed, pint-sized bundle of energy, he was the kind of kid you could lock out of your workshop but never out of your heart.  Daddy’s best friend and his mother’s tiny hero, Nathan was a walking, dark-haired embodiment of joy, life and hope.

Not only was he a prized possession to his parents, he was also an illustrious reminder of the precious innocence of youth, a dream of possibilities.

Awakened by angel song the instant he stepped off that rumbling yellow school bus, his passing represents the loss of some small part of our collective future, as well as the death of one of our most vulnerable and dependent.

And, upon hearing the news, it changed us forever.

As a father to a young son, the loss of Nathan became very personal to me.  Parenthood has a way of properly ordering one’s priorities; it likewise solidifies one’s perspective regarding the precious and irreplaceable nature of life.

Shortly after Nathan’s death, I met with his parents, and it became our shared goal to turn tragedy into hope for others.

We conducted legal research, meeting with numerous experts to develop workable legislation.  After fighting for two consecutive sessions to pass the proposed measure, the legislature finally approved an effective and strong piece of legislation.

In fact, Rep. Ed Blackmon (who opposed the bill last session) negotiated with us in good faith and conceded an overwhelming majority of the initial proposal.  In other words, we were able to pass roughly 95 percent of the original Nathan’s Law introduced last year.

The new law will go into effect on July 1, 2011.  It creates a 10-foot buffer zone around school buses, updates antiquated penalty provisions, implements a workable felony provision by reworking the state’s aggravated assault statute to apply to those who strike a child who has been discharged from or is seeking to enter a school bus, imposes a rebuttable inference to assist authorities in successfully prosecuting cases, prohibits school bus drivers from using cell phones except in emergency situations, directs school bus safety educational requirements for children in grades K-3, mandates school bus safety testing for those seeking a drivers license, authorizes the mounting of cameras on extended school bus stop arms, and creates a school bus safety task force with the responsibility of researching technologies, designs and approaches for enhanced safety.

But the changes aren’t merely legal in nature; life is more complex than that.

For months, our community — friends and strangers alike — reached out to comfort the Key family.  In turn, the Keys used that support and their pain as the motivation to turn tragedy into triumph.

In watching their struggles, we have all been reminded that when we face the death of a loved one, we come face to face with the power of God.

Though a new law cannot replace Nathan and will never fully alleviate the heartache of his loss, it has provided some small degree of purpose.  In life, Nathan would have touched many people.  In death, he has touched an entire state.

And through shared tears, we now know for sure:  one man really can make a difference, even if he was just a little boy.

We will never forget Nathan Key. If I can ever help you in any way, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]