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Reasoned action needed respone to pardon issues

Former Gov. Haley Barbour’s final-dayspardons remain a hot-button issue around the Capitol, but the timehas come for cooler heads and common sense to prevail as statelawmakers consider placing new limits on the chief executive’spowers.

    The governor’s pardon powers are codified in the state’sConstitution. Therefore, attempts at limitations would require aconstitutional amendment.

    One such amendment, to prohibit a governor from issuing pardons inthe last 90 days of a term, has been mentioned. Any amendment thatpasses the Legislature would then have to win voter approval.

    Another legislative possibility, though not in the form of aconstitutional amendment, would require notice be given to a localsheriff or district attorney that a pardon is being considered forsomeone who was convicted in their community. A public hearingcould then be held to allow comment on the potential reprieve.

    Both measures no doubt are well meaning on behalf of crime victimsand their families. But both also could produce dubious results andwould be unnecessary if current laws were followed, as they shouldhave been in the recent cases that have prompted such outrage.

    The same law that gives the chief executive the power to pardonalso states that no reprieve can be given unless notice of therequest has been made public for 30 days prior to the granting ofthe pardon. That notice must be published in the newspaper in thecounty in which the offense occurred.

    As has been determined with many of the more than 200 pardonsgranted by Barbour, that process simply was not followed.

    If the constitutional requirement for public notices had beenfollowed – and if it is in the future – then a law requiring apardon request notice be sent to a sheriff or district attorneywould be unnecessary.

    The published notice would alert all who needed to be informed onthe matter. And sheriffs and DAs would be able to continue to focuson their primary jobs – catching and prosecuting suspectedcriminals – instead of spending time organizing public hearings onpardon requests.

    From a political strategy standpoint, current Gov. Phil Bryant’sstated plans to not pardon anyone also borders on knee-jerkoverreaction.

    Some of Barbour’s pardons were intended to reduce state costs forcaring for seriously ill inmates or to clear records for those whohad long been released and were now searching for employment. Bothreasons are understandable and can be justified.

    Bryant’s no-pardon stance now threatens to put him in a trickypolitical position later should a medical release pardon or otherjustified relief measure be in the best interest of thetaxpayers.

    Where Bryant is on the right track in ending the use of offendersas trusties at the Governor’s Mansion.

    Barbour and previous governors pardoned trusties who served inthose capacities. A violent criminal – regardless of howwell-behaved now – getting a pardon simply because he was a chiefexecutive’s servant is grossly unfair to crime victims and theirfamilies.

    Lasting from January through the beginning of May, the 2012legislative session is a long one. The prudent course would be toallow the furor over Barbour’s pardons to subside and givelawmakers time to consider a measured and reasonable course ofaction. Heat-of-the-moment reactions can prove problematic in thelong run.

    While lawmakers consider their response, it would behoove all toremember that public notice requirements must be followed in futurepardon-related matters. Following those laws may not be the soleremedy to prevent future pardon-related problems, but it is asimple, necessary and required step in the right direction.

    It makes no difference how many laws we have if they are notfollowed.