A bill supporters said would reduce the number of inmates in Mississippi prisons has passed both chambers of the state Legislature, and now it awaits Gov. Phil Bryant's signature.
However, the measure is not without opposition, especially in Rankin County.
"Basically, you'll never, ever go to jail if you steal somebody's stuff," said State Rep. Mark Baker. "Without that stick out there, crime runs rampant."
Baker's referring to one of many changes in House Bill 585 that affects property crimes. It makes even stealing a vehicle valued under $1,000 a misdemeanor in Mississippi. Baker was one of 16 state representatives to vote against the measure on Monday.
At a press conference earlier that day, he and other members of Rankin County law enforcement voiced their opposition to a bill they say puts pressure on their departments.
"This bill is just bad all around, said Pearl Police Chief Ben Schuler. "I don't support it and these people behind me don't support it."
Supporters say it's supposed to save an estimated $266 million dollars over ten years by reducing the number of state inmates going to Mississippi prisons.
"Unless that $266 million is gonna be returned to the people of the state of Mississippi, then that is nothing more than a $266 million tax increase," said Ridgeland Police Chief Jimmy Houston. "The people on the municipal level, the mayors and boards, will have to explain to their constituents why they had to increase their taxes to absorb this cost."
On Thursday, Rankin County District Attorney Michael Guest and Sheriff Bryan Bailey sent letters to the governor and members of the media detailing their concerns. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Andy Gipson, said they've made a lot of concessions, most recently from the Mississippi Prosecutor's Association.
"House Bill 585 will keep our communities safer, keep our violent offenders behind bars, and restore certainty to the sentencing process," Gipson said in a statement. "It also expands judicial discretion to allow faith-based prison alternatives to promote offender restoration and rehabilitation."
The bill would change minimums for certain drug offenses, a move Bailey said will only add to the problem by turning those criminals back out onto the streets sooner than ever before.
Gov. Phil Bryant still has to sign the bill, but he's expected to. A letter dated Monday to the Rankin County DA details the governor's support for the measure.
Gipson said they've also received a lot of support, from the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court to the Mississippi Police Chiefs Association.
"He's gonna tell you that the sheriff's association is backing this House Bill 585. And the Police Chiefs Association," said Sheriff Bailey. "There isn't a police chief here in Rankin County that supports it. I'm not supporting it. Sheriff Tucker doesn't support it. Sheriff Lewis doesn't support it. I've talked to numerous sheriffs who don't support it."
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