Parole bill gets lawmakers’ attention

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 12, 2007

WESSON – “I believe drugs kill,” said District 76 Rep. GregHolloway during the 2007 Wesson Chamber of Commerce’s LegislativeBreakfast this morning. “But people deserve second chances; that’swhy pencils have erasers.”

Holloway was speaking to area educators, local officials andother business people who gathered at Copiah-Lincoln CommunityCollege’s Thames Center to ask questions and discuss issues witharea lawmakers. Holloway was responding to a question that targetedSenate Bill 2804, which would allow parole for minor drug dealersafter they’ve served 25 percent of their term.

“Usually these are kids who have made that first mistake,” saidDistrict 36 Sen. Lynn Posey.

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Posey expressed concerns that in just a few years, the statecould be looking at a half a billion dollars a year budget forCorrections.

“Basically if he’s been an ideal prisoner for 25 percent of histime, he would be eligible to be considered for parole,” Poseysaid. “At this time that would still only be 1,300 people who arequalified.”

Posey said there are at least 1,000 new inmates every year undercurrent conditions, and the bill would only affect the most minordrug offenders.

“Judges need some leeway,” said District 92 Rep. Dr. JimBarnett. “Corrections are eating us up. But I’m for prisonersworking, because that’s better than sitting in a cell watchingTV.”

In other matters, one question asked if legislators wouldconsider funding a grant to deal with adult day care based upon therising costs of caring for senior citizens. Barnett said that wouldbe a Medicaid issue.

“And we’re just maxed out,” he said, pointing out Mississippihas the largest Medicaid match of any state. “But we’re working onday care, and I think it will eventually be passed.”

Posey was happy to field a question about funds to improve stateparks.

“The main problem you’ll find in most of the state parks isrenovation and repair,” he said. “We’d like to make Calling PantherLake (in Copiah County) more of a park than a lake facility, but weneed to prioritize the issues. We just don’t have all the money todo what needs to be done at this time.”

District 62 Rep. Tom Weathersby brought up the possibility ofstate parks leasing their property with the approval of theLegislature, adding this could help bring in the funds needed torenovate and improve them.

“In the future, you’ll probably be seeing some kinds ofdevelopments on the state park lands, and in doing so, we’ll have alot of money come in that can go to the upkeep of the parks,” hesaid.

Not surprisingly, there was a question about progress thegrocery and tobacco tax plans. Posey said the bill was introducedto the Senate Finance Committee of the session, but as of yet therehad been no action taken on it.

“I feel we will deal with it before the session is over with,”added Weathersby.

Holloway addressed a question about his Healthy Student Act,which focuses on educating kids about the dangers of obesity, aswell as requiring conditioning and healthy eating in schools.

“I’m not certain they’re going to pass it this year, but it’s animportant issue and it needs to be addressed,” said Holloway.”Obesity is a serious problem in our state.”

Another issue raised was that of sheriff’s deputies beingallowed to use radar on county roads. Barnett fielded the questionfirst, pointing out that many people have opposed it in the past asthey’ve worried about local officers having that kind of power onthe county roads.

“We’ve been fortunate in Copiah and Lincoln counties to havegood sheriffs’ departments,” he said. “I wish it would pass. Itwould save lives.”