- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Employees in the Mississippi prison system could lose their civil-service job protection for a year, under a plan that won state Senate approval Thursday.

Senators voted 34-14 to pass Senate Bill 2804, which it would give the Mississippi Department of Corrections commissioner the power to hire and fire employees without following state Personnel Board rules for one year, starting July 1.

The bill moves to the House for more work.

Marshall Fisher became corrections commissioner in January, weeks after the retirement of Christopher Epps, who had held the job for a dozen years.

The day after Epps stepped down, federal prosecutors announced that he and businessman Cecil McCrory had been indicted on bribery and corruption charges tied to prison contracts. The two have pleaded not guilty and are set for trial in April.

Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, said during a debate Thursday that Fisher needs flexibility to manage the prison system, including an easier route to hiring and firing people. She said he would consult with the attorney general before taking away people’s jobs.

“He wants to make it better. He wants to improve it,” Collins said of the prison system. “I think we all need to get behind him.”

Several Democratic senators opposed the bill, saying Fisher can work within existing Personnel Board rules.

The Legislature removed civil-service protection from Department of Corrections employees about 10 years ago, and legislators said Epps cut hundreds of jobs. Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, said one of the people fired then was an employee of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, who was pregnant at the time.

Simmons said the woman rode a bus to work and arrived at the prison only to learn, without warning, that she was being fired. He said she had to wait for another bus to return later to take her home. He said he doesn’t want workers now to be treated that way.

“Some of these employees may be your next door neighbor. Some of these employees may be your church member,” Simmons told senators. Worse, he said, some of the people being fired won’t have political connections and won’t have a way to try to protect their job: “They will fall through the cracks.”

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Online: Senate Bill 2804 https://bit.ly/1AfOx4a .


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