Rep. Scott Bounds, right, and his father, Buck Bounds.
Rep. Scott Bounds, right, and his father, Buck Bounds.
Bills that would grant raises for teachers and reform the criminal justice system are expected to pass before the state Legislature adjourns in April, Rep. C. Scott Bounds told the Philadelphia Rotary Club on Monday.

Bounds, a Republican, updated Rotarians on the current session as a guest of his father, Buck Bounds, who was program chairman.

Bounds told Rotarians that criminal justice reform was needed as Mississippi prisons are being flooded with inmates, causing the corrections budget to rise from about $50 million in the mid-1990s to over $360 million today.

He told Rotarians that the Truth in Sentencing Act, passed in the mid-1990s, spurred an increase in state inmates. The act makes it mandatory that most offenders serve 85 percent of their sentences.

Since that time, Bounds said, the corrections budget has increased significantly.

"We have flooded our prisons. We have built new prisons, new regional facilities, opened county work centers," he said.

He also noted the additional expense of inmate meals and medical care.

A 30-member task force - composed of judges, district attorneys, prosecutors, attorneys and business people from across the state - was put together through legislation enacted last year to address the rising corrections budget, Bounds said.

Bounds told Rotarians that the task force was looking at ways to reduce the number of people incarcerated, including placing more offenders on house arrest and expanding drug courts across the state.

He spoke briefly about the proposed teacher pay raises, saying he was optimistic that teachers would be granted some type of increase during this legislative session.

"It has drawn a lot of attention," Bounds said.

The House proposal calls for a $4,200 annual increase over two-and-a-half years while the Senate proposal is for $2,500 over 16 months.

"I'm optimistic," Bounds said.

Legislation requiring statewide building codes is also being debated, he said.

If passed, the legislation would give local governments 120 days to opt out by resolution, Bounds said, reassuring Rotarians that it wouldn't affect the Neshoba County Fairgrounds.

"I made sure that the Fairgrounds were exempt from this," Bounds said, drawing laughter. "We don't need any strict building codes on Fair cabins!"

He said the proposed legislation stemmed from the Coast in wake of recent hurricanes.

Among other proposed bills generating interest, Bounds said, is one that would prohibit texting and driving.

Legislation to fund schools to train additional state troopers and conservation officers is also being considered, he said.

It would cost about $7 million to train and equip 50 new troopers and about $1.7 million to train and equip 25 new conservation officers, Bounds said.