Public safety focus: Bryant signs bills that fulfilled a pledge

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant jokes with Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Cindy Searcy at the state Capitol on Monday prior to signing a bill that provides appropriation for the Department of Public Safety, including $6.9 million to train 60 new troopers. The bill was one of several law enforcement-themed bills signed by the governor. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant jokes with Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Cindy Searcy at the state Capitol on Monday prior to signing a bill that provides appropriation for the Department of Public Safety, including $6.9 million to train 60 new troopers. The bill was one of several law enforcement-themed bills signed by the governor. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Three bills that supporters say will make Mississippians safer were signed into law Monday by Gov. Phil Bryant during ceremonies in his state Capitol office.

The bills would:

• Add 16 assistant district attorneys across the state.

• Fund a new trooper school to add 60 officers to the ranks of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

• Take DNA samples from people arrested on violent felony charges to run tests to try to determine if they might have been involved in other crimes.

The bill is known as Katie’s Law – named after Katie Sepich who was brutally attacked and murdered in New Mexico in 2003. Since then, her parents have advocated states passing the DNA-testing law.

“Last year I pledged that this legislative session would focus on public safety, and these bills are a reflection of that effort,” Bryant said in a news release. “Taken with the criminal justice reforms we enacted earlier this year, this package of bills will ensure that Mississippi is better prepared to execute the first duty of government – protecting public safety.”

Earlier this year the Republican governor signed a far- reaching, bipartisan bill designed to curb growth in the state’s prison budget by giving judges more authority in some instances to impose alternative sentences like house arrest or drug courts. That legislation also is designed to result in longer sentences for certain offenders, primarily those convicted of violent crimes,

“The governor said this would be a session about public safety and he delivered on that promise,” said House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, who along with Highway Patrol troopers, district attorneys and others attended the bill signings.

Bryant had said during the session, which ended earlier this month, that funding a new trooper school was critical because “if we don’t have troopers on the roads, people will die.”

The Legislature provided $6.9 million to train and equip 60 new troopers. There is a shortfall of about 150 troopers statewide, resulting in the Highway Patrol having to focus on working wrecks and providing little time to enforcement, said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz.

Earlier in the session, there were concerns by members of the legislative leadership about appropriating additional funds to Public Safety because of questions about the agency’s management of its budget. The final budget agreement provides the agency an additional $20 million to not only fund the trooper school, but to provide new equipment and to make upgrades to the state Crime Lab.

But the Legislature enacted additional oversight over the DPS budget in the process.

Santa Cruz said Monday he believes any disagreements between the legislative leadership and his agency have been addressed.

“My goal is to work well with everybody,” he said.

District 1, located in Northeast Mississippi, as well as District 16, which includes Clay and Oktibehha counties, will receive an additional assistant district attorney under the legislation signed into law Monday by the governor.

Applications for the new trooper school will be available May 1 at the DPS main building in Jackson and at each district office. A person also can call DPS Human Resources at 601 987-1264 to receive an application through the mail.

The last trooper school was authorized by the 2011 Legislature. The goal is to start the next school in November and have graduation next April.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com