- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi House members want to authorize new Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher to reorganize the department’s central office and fire some employees without regard to civil service status.

However, when the House passed Senate Bill 2804 Wednesday, it didn’t go as far as the Senate, which wants to allow Fisher that power over all the department’s employees. Fisher wants the ability to shift people around in the whole agency, as well as lay people off.

The amended version would only authorize Fisher to fire roughly 100 central office employees for two years through June 30, 2017.

“The commissioner just wants a little bit of time to do a little bit of restructuring,” said Rep Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia.

The bill requires the commissioner to consult with Attorney General Jim Hood’s office before firing someone. Cockerham said that should guarantee that any firings are done in compliance with state and federal law.

“The commissioner has good intentions,” Cockerham said. “He’s not trying to go after specific people.”

Department spokeswoman Grace Fisher said, “In the last year we have been experiencing a drop in the inmate population but an increase in the number of offenders or ex-offenders being supervised in the community. If this trend continues, we likely will need to shift more resources to community corrections.”

Some Democrats voted against the bill because they oppose allowing agencies to fire people without going through state Personnel Board procedures.

The House and Senate must work out their differences in conference before the bill can move ahead.

The House also changed the bill to force the department to pay overtime, instead of allowing prisons to use their current system of compensatory time. Prison guards and other field workers and officers are scheduled for 160 hours every four weeks, and get comp time for the next 11 hours during the period, unless they exceed 171 hours. Some employees have complained that they’re unable to schedule comp time.

The Clarion-Ledger reported in 2013 that, at that time, department employees had worked more than 135,000 hours of uncompensated overtime. The system is legal under federal law, and the department estimates it would cost $7 million a year to pay overtime instead of comp time.

The department has, in the past, reimbursed employees for accumulated balances. Corrections bought out accumulated times in 2011, paying $3.6 million.

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Online: Senate Bill 2804:

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy

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