Lawmakers OK funding for Miss. cybercrime unit

Published 11:41 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The cybercrime center in Attorney General Jim Hood’s office could get up to a half-million dollars more in state funding if Gov. Haley Barbour signs a bill that increases fines to generate the money.

The House and Senate passed the final version of the legislation on Monday. It increases fines on some misdemeanors and felonies by $1. Those fines would include traffic citations and fish and game violations. If Barbour signs the bill, the law would go into effect July 1.

Senate Judiciary B Chairman Gray Tollison said the fine increases should generate up to $500,000 a year for the unit that tracks and prosecutes Internet crimes that include child pornography.

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“We need to prosecute these people who are committing these Internet crimes,” said Tollison, D-Oxford.

Attorney General Jim Hood said the unit first received about $600,000 in federal funding some eight years ago, but that money “has been dwindling.”

“It’s now about $150,000, but the unit is costing more than that,” Hood said Monday. “We’ve kept it going by pulling money off of other divisions in the office. We’ve been patching it together and this just gives it a stable funding source.”

The cybercrime center is currently staffed with one prosecutor and four investigators. It is the only statewide digital evidence recovery laboratory in Mississippi. Hood said about 75 percent of the cases being worked in the center involve child exploitation and child sexual abuse.

The unit also investigates other Internet crimes, including phishing scams and identity theft.

The legislation was among a flurry of bills passed by lawmakers as they prepare to take several weeks off before returning to deal with the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Two of the other bills sent to the governor on Monday would:

— Authorize nearly two dozen new specialty license plates. Motorists will be able to purchase plates that support Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, mixed martial arts in Mississippi, the Professional Firefighters Association of Mississippi and the Delta Bear Habitat Program, among others.

— Raise accountability levels in underperforming school districts in the state. The bill allows for a superintendent or school board to be removed if a district is deemed failing for two consecutive years. It also requires more public disclosure on overall student performance.

The bills are Senate Bill 2978, House Bill 1482 and Senate Bill 2628.