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Report To The People

2014 Session Heralded For Public Safety

by Tommy Reynolds

The recently concluded 2014 Legislative session was heralded as a “Public Safety” session, and in many ways, I can say that prediction came through. It wasn’t always pretty, but in the end, I believe Mississippians will be well served by a number of our successful efforts that are aimed at making our communities safer.
You may recall that we discovered back in the fall of 2013 that there was no state trooper assigned to Yalo-busha County. It appeared that Yalobusha wasn’t the only underserved county in the state, and I along with others began filing measures calling for a new trooper school to begin as soon as practicable. The Governor agreed.
As I wrote previously, trooper schools are intensive, 23-week training programs that are held at the Mississippi Law Enforce-ment Officers Training Academy in Pearl. Only about 100 of over 500 applicants are typically admitted to the class. Of that number of students, fewer than 50 will graduate as troopers. The academy curriculum covers boxing, physical training, ground fighting, advanced officer survival, academics, EVOC, first aid and law.
 It is an expensive undertaking, costing about $7 million, but well worth it in terms of citizen safety, in my opinion.
During any session, a seemingly uncontroversial idea can suddenly become one of those political hot potatoes that are threatened with extinction due to issues other than the central need for action. Such was the case with the numerous calls for a new trooper school through the halls of the Capitol. The Senate and House leadership differed on whether or not there was such a need.
All of the stand-alone measures calling for a new school, including mine, died on deadlines, and it looked as if this important public safety step would not make it out of the session.
Several of us worked together to keep the issue alive, and the provision for a new trooper school was inserted by House committee action into the Senate appropriation bill for the Department of Public Safety (SB 2871). The measure ultimately went to conference to gain concurrence between the two chambers, and after two re-committals to conference, it emerged with the school appropriation intact. The measure should be signed into law by the Governor on April 24.
We thank our local law enforcement for their continued hard work to keep us safe, and are glad that they will have this additional help. With the new, highly trained state troopers on our highways, all of us will be able to rest a little easier. By this time next year, we should have already welcomed the new graduates into our communities and onto our highways.
As is often the case at closing time for a session, we were working late into the last night, and were able to resurrect another issue that had gone by the wayside during the session. The Governor had called a special session, primarily for the purpose of funding the Department of Transpor-tation, but had also included a provision that allowed us to vote on funding for 16 additional assistant district attorneys around the state, which we approved.
One of these new assistant district attorneys will be assigned to our district to help see that criminal cases are processed in a timely manner and that additional work is done in our drug courts. So many of those who are charged have fallen into crime because of personal drug addiction, that it is an important safety measure for our communities to address drug addiction in a systematic and just way through special courts.
These measures along with important changes to our Criminal Justice System –giving judges the right to set meaningful sentences and provide alternatives to expensive incarceration for non-violent offenders, while making sure violent offenders remain behind bars — will indeed mark the 2014 Legislative Session as one focused on “Public Safety.”
Please feel free to contact me at 1720 N. Main Street, Water Valley, MS 38965 by email at thomasureynolds or by phone at (662) 473-2571. I look forward to hearing from you on any issue that you may have.

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