Gov. Reeves vetoes criminal justice reform bills

Politics

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Governor Tate Reeves rejected bills, SB 2123 and HB 658, on Wednesday. The bills, which had passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, sought to address Mississippi’s prison crisis and help former inmates find work upon release.

Empower Mississippi President Grant Callen shared his statement about the dismissal of the bills:

“We are disappointed with the veto of SB 2123 and HB 658.  Both were good bills that had widespread, bipartisan support that included conservative legislators and advocacy organizations. Inaction is not a strategy to address overcrowding and deplorable conditions that have resulted in the loss of life, a series of lawsuits, and a Department of Justice investigation spurred by the Trump White House. The legislature is to be commended for recognizing this and acting. We are undeterred in our commitment to advance meaningful criminal justice reform to address Mississippi’s growing prison crisis, ensure our criminal justice system protects against real threats, reduce the burden of corrections on taxpayers, and provide rehabilitated inmates a second chance. ”

The governor addressed his decision to veto the bill on social media.

I also had to veto House Bill 658 and Senate Bill 2123. The proponents call these criminal justice reform bills. I’ve been in favor of significant criminal justice reform bills in the past. I’ve helped make sure they become law. In fact, I signed a different one today that helps provide for better reentry into society after imprisonment. I’m generally sympathetic to the arguments. These individual bills go too far.

Right now, under Mississippi law, you can erase one felony from your record after a few years. One of these bills says that criminals can get three separate felony incidents erased from their record. To me, that goes too far. We can’t have career criminals walking around with no records. The law enforcement community that I spoke with agreed.

The same goes for Senate Bill 2123 – well-intentioned but too far. For example, it says a criminal can get parole if they’re convicted of crimes that could get them the death penalty but they get sentenced to life imprisonment instead. Another example: Right now, you’re eligible to get out of prison at 60 unless you’re a trafficker, habitual offender, or violent criminal. This totally eliminates those protections. I got countless calls from law enforcement and prosecutors about the risk it creates.

Contrary to what some will say, this was not a conservative reform effort. While some of my friends and good people supported it, two-thirds of Republicans in the Senate voted against it. That says something to me.

If they want to try again, I’ll listen. This was not the right approach.

I know that I’ll get attacked and protested for this. In a time when efforts to “defund police” and “dismantle the criminal justice system” are part of the discussion, they’ll probably try to paint any effort at law and order as the radical position. It’s all part of the job—this is the right thing to do.

Gov. Tate Reeves, (R-Miss.)

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