Bryant says he’ll push for tougher drug dealing laws

Published 4:18 pm Wednesday, October 10, 2007

State Auditor Phil Bryant, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, says if he’s elected, he’ll push for mandatory life sentences for second-offense drug dealers.

“What we’re trying to do is deter people from dealing drugs,” Bryant said Tuesday. “I hope that they would say ’Mississippi has very stiff penalties. I could go to jail for life.”’

Bryant held a news conference at his campaign office in Jackson to elaborate on his crime initiatives. Expanding the state’s sex offender registry to include those convicted of crimes against children and the elderly; prosecuting juvenile sex offenders as adults and banning the sale of drug paraphernalia in stores were among his other proposals.

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The lieutenant governor doesn’t introduce legislation, but presides over the Mississippi Senate and appoints chairmen to committees that decide the fate of bill.

As a former Hinds County sheriff’s deputy, Bryant said he saw firsthand the damage that drugs were doing to communities. Bryant said he had worked undercover on narcotics cases, “and got close to the source that was taking our children from us.”

Bryant will face Democratic state Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville in the Nov. 6 general election. They’re trying to win the seat that is open since term limits prevent Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck cannot seek another run for the office.

Franks, in a separate phone interview, said crime is always a “major concern,” but he criticized Bryant for focusing on the issue four weeks before the election.

“He just doesn’t want to talk about the real issues, funding education, making sure people have jobs and doing the right thing of cutting the grocery sales tax in half.”

Franks said as a lawmaker he’s supported legislation that sought to enhance penalties against people convicted of crimes against children and the elderly. Franks said in 2005 he authored legislation that restricted the sale of key ingredients used to make crystal methamphetamine.

Bryant was joined at the news conference by Ken Magee of the Police Benevolent Association, Rankin County Sheriff Ronnie Pennington and Michael Guest, the incoming district attorney for Madison and Rankin counties. All said Mississippi needs tougher laws to curtail crime.

Guest said Bryant’s proposal would put drug dealers on the same level as other violent crime offenders.