The Mississippi Legislature passed a bill last week that would keep those indicted for embezzling public funds from getting off with a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Senate Bill 2552 would prohibit those charged with public embezzlement from participating in the pretrial intervention program that is designed to wipe the record of a defendant clean (either by avoiding charges or having charges dismissed) provided they comply with conditions specified by the court.
The bill was passed by the House on March 11 and is due back from Gov. Tate Reeves today. He can either directly sign the bill into law or it will become law without his signature.
An example cited by state Auditor Shad White on why the bill was needed was the case of Roger Liddell, the former superintendent of the Noxubee County School District and the former principal at Simmons High School. While at Simmons, Liddell was indicted in 2011 on charges of embezzling more than $100,000 in electronic equipment from the Hollandale School District after then-state Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office issued a demand letter of more than $111,000.
The judge in Liddell’s case allowed him to enter a pre-trial diversion program after he plead guilty of the embezzlement charges and agreed to pay restitution to the school district, wiping the blot from his record. Liddell later ran for and won an election to be the superintendent of Noxubee County’s school district, which was later taken over by the state Department of Education as a failing district.
Liddell lost his job as superintendent in 2018 after then-Gov. Phil Bryant signed the emergency declaration for the MDE to take over the Noxubee school district.
Two bills that could change the way the Alcoholic Beverage Control division of the Department of Revenue handles wholesale distribution of wine and spirits will be headed to conference. The Senate declined the changes to SB 2806, while the House did the same with HB 997. The House rewrote SB 2806 with a strike-all amendment that makes it a clone of HB 997 that removed the state as the wholesale distributor of wine and spirits.
The Senate did the same with the House bill, rewriting it with a strike-all to resemble their bill’s language that keeps the state in the wholesale distribution business while opening the possibility of a vendor taking over the state’s warehouse. A compromise will have to be reached before either bill can make it to the governor’s desk.
The Senate also approved House Bill 633, which will require the state Department of Education to implement a computer science curriculum in K-12 public schools by the 2024-2025 school year. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Felsher, R-Biloxi, was amended in the Senate and the House concurred with the amended bill on Monday.
SB 2798 would allow the state’s rate-regulated utilities to use surplus bandwidth to help expand broadband into underserved or unserved rural areas of the state. The bill was amended in the House and the Senate declined to concur with the changes, sending the bill to conference for a compromise. The bill was authored by state Sen. Joel Carter, R-Gulfport. A similar House bill died earlier in the session.