November 26, 2006

Sheriffs still clamoring for authority to run radar
# Pivotal House panel chairman isn't sure bill can pass, but group's lobbyist says more lawmakers coming around

By Leah Rupp

Some Mississippi Sheriffs Association members believe a bill that would allow deputies to use radar to catch speeders could pass in the 2007 legislative session.

But once again they must convince House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Miles, D-Fulton, because Miles still does not think a radar bill would pass the House. Radar legislation died in Miles' committee during the 2006 session after passing the Senate for the first time.

"A chairman is hesitant to bring legislation forward that he doesn't have the votes for," Miles said last week. "And I don't know if there is sufficient interest."

Radar has been a top priority for the sheriff's association for more than a dozen years.

"In the last few years ... I've seen a real movement of legislators changing their minds - sometimes it just takes a little time," said Trey Bobinger, lobbyist for the association.

At a Nov. 1 transportation subcommittee meeting, about 12 members of the association attempted to sway lawmakers before the session begins in January.

"There are misconceptions out there that we'll set up too many speed traps or roadblocks," said Coahoma County Sheriff Andrew Thompson, who is the association's president.

The landscape of Mississippi has changed, he added, and many residents have moved outside municipalities into sheriffs' departments' jurisdiction.

"And we have to have something substantial to show a judge to prove someone is speeding," Thompson said.

Bad information is what Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace says is holding up the process. Many believe departments will use fees from tickets to supplement tight budgets.

"The only reason sheriffs in this state need and want radar is for safety," Pace said. "For the state Legislature to play politics with the lives of people in Mississippi is inexcusable."

For years, sheriffs got a fee for every citation issued, but the Legislature ended that practice in 1970.

"It's absolutely insane when the public is calling for help and we can't provide that service," Pace said.

Byram resident David King agreed.

"I ride my bicycle on a daily basis, and people who are driving treat me like a pest," King said. "There are a lot of children living in my area, and it only takes one car. They need radar, and they need to use it."