Pardon limitation clears committee

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The Senate Constitution Committee, responding to former Gov. Haley Barbour’s pardons during his final hours in office, passed legislation Monday that would curtail future pardoning authority of governors.
The proposal must pass the Judiciary B Committee by today, which is a committee deadline day. Senate Judiciary B Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he does not know if his committee will have time on a busy deadline day to deal with the pardon proposal and another constitutional amendment that ensures that the Mississippi Constitution does not provide the right to an abortion.
He said he normally supports anti-abortion proposals and said the pardon issue could be dealt with next year since Gov. Phil Bryant already has said he does not intend to issue any pardons.
If it does pass out of Judiciary B, the proposal to amend the state Constitution still would have to pass the House and Senate by a two-thirds vote and then be approved by voters.
Senate Constitution Chair Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, said the proposal was needed “to correct those wrongs” done by Barbour’s controversial pardons, about 200 total.
Those pardons are currently being considered by the state Supreme Court. Attorney General Jim Hood has argued many should be voided because the constitutional provision requiring the person seeking the pardon to provide 30-day notice in the newspaper was not followed.
Watson’s proposal would divide crimes into three categories and prevent the governor from pardoning people convicted of violent crimes, such as murder, capital rape and various crimes against children.
People convicted of another level of crimes, such as aggravated assault and armed robbery, could be eligible for a pardon after serving at least 20 years of their sentence or all of it, if it was less than 20 years. But those people still would have to provide notice in the newspaper, and also to the victim and to the district attorney who prosecuted the case.
People convicted of other non-violent crimes, such as drug offenses, would be eligible for a pardon if they provided the enhanced level of public notice.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com