Bill giving 2nd chance for first-time drug pushers dead in House

Published 7:27 pm Thursday, March 1, 2007

A bill that would have offered parole to first-time drug offenders who are found guilty of selling small amounts of drugs has died in a House committee.

The Senate-passed bill would have allowed inmates with good behavior to be eligible for parole if they had served at least 25 percent of their sentences. Currently, offenders must serve at least 85 percent.

“We’ve got to find a cost-effective and safe way to handle these inmates,” said Sen. Lydia Chassaniol, R-Winona, a former Parole Board member.

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About 22,000 prisoners are in the system, and the state is running out of space to house them.

Under the legislation, 1,300 state inmates would be eligible for early release between now and 2011, supporters said.

House Corrections Committee Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, said he plans to bring a bill forward next year.

“We’ve got to take some steps like that,” he said.

Tuesday was the deadline for House committees to act on Senate bills and Senate committees on House bills.

The Senate Appropriations Committee killed a bill that would have allowed private development in several state parks.

“This is nothing but a way to get rid of parks,” Sen. Tommy Gollott, D-Biloxi, told the Appropriations Committee.

The bill would have allowed development such as cabins, convention centers and hotels at six state parks — J.P. Coleman in Tishomingo County, John W. Kyle in Panola County, Hugh White in Grenada County, George P. Cossar in Tallahatchie County, Percy Quin in Pike County and Legion Lake in Winston County.

Supporters of the bill said it would have provided steady money needed to redo the parks, but some senators cited phone calls from residents protesting the plan.

A House bill for a $10 million burn center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center was approved by a Senate committee. The center would replace the burn unit in Greenville that closed in 2005 over staffing and budget concerns.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a Senate bill that would penalize companies with state contracts if they hire illegal immigrants.

The bill carries a $100 fine and the possibility of 60 days in jail.

The bills are Senate Bill 2804, House Bills 1492, 567 and 790 and Senate Bill 2897.