Legislature clarifies officer pay

MAHER

MAHER

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Legislation ensuring Tupelo Police Officer Joseph Maher can receive full compensation while healing from a gunshot wound passed both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature on Thursday.

The House bill, authored by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, is labeled the “Gale Stauffer Jr. and Joseph Maher Law Enforcement Appreciation Act of 2014.” Stauffer was killed while responding to a Dec. 23 bank robbery while Maher was injured in the shooting and is still recovering.

Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said there are questions about whether a change in law is needed to give a municipal government or a board of supervisors the authority to pay a law officer or firefighter injured in the line of duty, but said the legislation would remove any doubts.

Tupelo city government has grappled with the question of its authority to provide Maher’s full pay as he recovers.

“To be safe, this clears it up,” said Turner, who is one of 53 co-authors of the legislation.

The question was whether the local government could pay all or part of an injured employees’ salary not covered by a state law enforcement trust fund that compensates firefighters and law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty.

The primary author, Holland, has been in the hospital for two weeks recovering from gallbladder surgery. Turner said Holland, who was monitoring House action from the hospital, called him after the bill passed the House on Thursday.

“He was pleased,” Turner said.

A similar bill, which passed the Senate on Thursday, also would prevent state law enforcement officers from having to use their earned personal leave time or major medical leave time ifinjured in the line of duty.

Sen. Perry Lee, R-Mendenhall, author of the Senate bill, said he filed it after a state Bureau of Narcotics agent was injured in the line and duty and after the bank robbery in Tupelo.

Lee said he was in Tupelo visiting relatives when the bank robbery occurred.

“They are out there every day protecting our interests against all kinds of elements,” Lee said. “The least we can do is compensate them when they are injured on the job.”

No member voted against either bill. But at some point in the process an agreement will have to be reached on which piece of legislation to send to Gov. Phil Bryant for his signature.

Another bill that passed the House would raise the death benefit for the survivors of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty from $65,000 to $100,000. It also would make emergency management agency employees eligible for the benefit.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com

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Robbie Ward contributed to this story.