Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A bill providing Mississippi’s 82 sheriffs a pay raise is heading for Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk unless the Senate changes its mind, and legislation honoring two Tupelo police officers – one killed and the other injured – in a December bank robbery remains alive in the process.
The “Gale Stauffer Jr. and Joseph Maher Law Enforcement Act of 2014” passed the Senate on Tuesday and now heads back to the House which can accept the Senate version of the bill or invite conference to try to work out the differences.
In a Dec. 23 bank robbery in Tupelo, Stauffer was killed while responding, and Maher was injured.
The original intent of the House legislation was to ensure local governments could pay all or part of an injured employee’s salary not covered by a state law enforcement trust fund that compensates firefighters and law enforcement officers injured in the line of duty.
Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Chairwoman Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, said she liked the fact that the primary author of the legislation, Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, named it in honor of the Tupelo officers, but her committee expanded the legislation to ensure that state law enforcement injured in the line of duty would not have to use earned personal leave time or major medical leave time.
“We wanted to make it more expansive to all law enforcement while honoring the Tupelo officers,” she said.
She added, “It says a lot about a community if you look at the way it treats those who have suffered a tragedy or who are vulnerable. When this happened, Tupelo rose to the occasion for the Maher family and the Stauffer family. This is to ensure that if something happens again, we will have something in place to help the family and loved ones.”
Collins’ committee also passed out legislation that was approved on the Senate floor Tuesday with three dissenting votes to provide a sizable pay raise for sheriffs.
The five sheriffs in counties with a population of more than 100,000 would receive a $9,000 raise to $99,000.
The breakdown of the other raises:
• The 12 sheriffs in counties with populations ranging from 45,000 to 99,999 would get at least a $12,000 raise to $90,000.
• The eight sheriffs in counties with populations ranging from 34,000 to 44,999 would get a $13,000 raise to $85,000.
• The 34 sheriffs in counties with populations ranging from 15,000 to 33,999 would get at least a $17,600 raise to $80,000.
• The 23 sheriffs in counties with populations of less than 14,999 would get at least an $18,600 raise to $75,000.
Under the existing law, pay for sheriffs is broken into eight categories based on population. The proposal that is heading to Bryant for his signature reduces those categories to five.
Some senators questioned whether the counties could afford the raises and questioned what some considered large raises for the small counties.
But Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, said in 2007 the Legislature increased the fee by $10 for law enforcement to serve summons with the intent of using those funds for a pay raise for sheriffs. But the legislation authorizing the raise was never approved by the Legislature.
Doty told the Senate that supervisors had not voiced concerns about their counties being able to afford the pay raise and that the size of the raise and new salary structure was developed by the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association.
While the bill was held on a parliamentary maneuver, it is expected to go to Bryant for his signature.