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New Mississippi public safety laws...

New Mississippi public safety laws address squatted vehicles, driver’s education, first responder benefits

By: Jeremy Pittari - June 10, 2024

(Photo from Sean Tindell Facebook)

  • DPS Commissioner Sean Tindell outlines the public safety legislation becoming law following the 2024 legislative session.

Several bills intended to make the state a safer place were passed during the Mississippi’s 2024 legislative session. Other legislation related to public safety looks to increase benefits for first responders and allow the Department of Public Safety to move offices. 

Squatted No More

One of the most divisive new laws focused on the restriction of a vehicle modification that has become popular, often referred to as the “Carolina Squat.” The modification lifts the front axle of a vehicle higher than the rear axle, essentially creating a visibility problem, said Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell. Raising the front bumper can put it above other vehicles on the road, also creating a hazard during collisions.

HB 349, authored by State Representative Fred Shanks (R), addressed that problem.

While the goal was to ensure the safety of those on the road, the response from the public has been mixed, Tindell said. He told Magnolia Tribune that he has received comments ranging from, “Thank you very much,” to, “The bill is an overreach of government.”

“The reality is, it is a public safety issue and one in which those trucks, in the way that they are operating and being modified, created a dangerous condition,” Commissioner Tindell said. “And there is no manufacturer that would build a vehicle in that manner because of the safety concerns.”

He added that at times the front of those vehicles is raised so high it becomes necessary for the owner to install a front facing camera to provide better visibility while driving. 

At least one fatal accident in Virginia back in February of 2022 is alleged to have been the result of a squatted truck colliding with an unmodified truck, according to news reports. 

According to the bill, owners of affected vehicles will be given warnings until January 27, 2025. After then, tickets will be issued for violations. First offenses will entail a $100 fine, while second offenses will result in a $200 fine. Third and subsequent offenses will entail a $300 fine and result in the suspension of the driver’s license for a year.

Squatted trucks have also been outlawed in the states of Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Other states, including Alabama and Tennessee, are considering similar legislation.

Fines collected as part of the new law will go towards funding another new law, the establishment of a mandated statewide driver’s education program. 

Driver’s Ed

For a number of Mississippi drivers, a driver’s education program at their high school is where they learned the rules of the road. Yet, Commissioner Tindell said not every high school in the state offers the program. 

The passage of SB 2695, authored by State Senator Dennis DeBar (R), mandates the creation and maintenance of a driver’s education program in every secondary school district within the state.

Tindell said the legislation also mandates that every person in Mississippi who seeks their first driver’s license, regardless of age, present proof that they completed a driver’s education course. The intent is to ensure that every driver on the road has learned safe driving habits.

“So, we need to make sure that there’s availability for them all to take it because it will be a requirement that they have that certificate before they get their driver’s license,” Tindell said.

The Mississippi Department of Education has two years to create and implement such a statewide program, which will include providing the resources and teachers necessary so every student can take the now mandated course. 

“I think this is so critically important so we can save lives,” Commissioner Tindell said. “It’s going to make our roads safer and it’s going to ensure that if you’re operating a motor vehicle on the roadways and byways of the state of Mississippi that you’ve gotten the proper training to do that.”

Suspended Licenses

Another new law clarifies the date from which a person’s license is suspended for a DUI.

Commissioner Tindell said the current procedure sometimes leads to situations where people try to get their license back too early after it was suspended, often because they thought their court date was the start of the 120-day suspension. 

“There was usually a gap where these people weren’t driving, so they were coming in trying to get their license reinstated too early,” Tindell elaborated. “They were doing it from their court date versus the actual suspension (date).”

Under the current procedures, after a judgement is handed down it could take a week or two before the driver’s service bureau receives notification of the suspension. Then, there is the time it takes to process the ruling and provide notification to the driver. 

HB 292, authored by State Representative Rob Roberson (R), clarifies the timeline and states, “The first day of any one-hundred-twenty-day period shall begin 21 days after entry of the judgement of conviction or order of non-adjudication.”

Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training

Another bill, HB 691, revises the state’s Board on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Training to be comprised of those with a public safety background. Commissioner Tindell said that previously those without prior law enforcement training or a background in public safety could serve on the Board. 

The legislation also provides the Board with the ability to initiate their own investigations into allegations of officer misconduct and allows the Board to receive funding in order to hire two investigators. 

Another change in State Representative Shanks’ bill will require all law enforcement officers to receive continuing education credits. 

“In the past it was only the police departments that were required to get that training,” Tindell explained. 

Now law enforcement personnel in all departments across the state will receive the training, such as Sheriff departments, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, Mississippi Highway Patrol, State Auditor’s Office and Capitol Police.

Commissioner Tindell said this legislative session was a really big year for public safety. He added that the state is typically ranked in bottom of a lot of categories in the nation, but U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the state as 17th in public safety.

“I think these efforts will enhance our public safety in Mississippi and hopefully we’ll move into the top 10 here soon,” Tindell said. 

New, Relocated Offices

Two other bills will allow the Department of Public Safety to relocate some operations. 

SB 2276, penned by State Senator Ben Suber (R), allows the agency to purchase a new facility to establish a medical examiner’s office in Oxford, while SB 2179, authored by State Senator Joey Fillingane (R), allows the agency to rent space to relocate the driver’s service station in Jackson. 

Establishing a medical examiner’s office in Oxford will create a third medical examiner’s office in the state and help expedite autopsies as well as the subsequent completion of reports, the Commissioner said.

When Tindell assumed the helm of the agency in 2020, there was a backlog of about 2,000 autopsy reports. Through help by local doctors and the doctors employed by DPS, that backlog has been greatly reduced.

“As it stands now, I think we have 150 cases that are backlogged that we’re working on at the medical examiner’s office,” Tindell said.

Currently, medical examiner’s offices are only located in Biloxi and Pearl, leaving the northern portion of the state without those services.

“I think everybody in that part of the state thinks that is a much-needed addition to the medical examiner’s office,” Tindell said. “If we have a homicide in Desoto County or an infant death, or inmate death in Itawamba, right now those bodies have to be taken to the medical examiner’s office in Pearl so those autopsies can be done.”

The new office is to be located in a former eye clinic next to a hospital that the University of Mississippi Medical Center recently purchased in Oxford.

“So, over the next year, year and a half, we will be reconfiguring that building and turning it into an office for our north Mississippi medical examiner.” Tindell explained.

A nationwide search is ongoing to hire a doctor to work in the new office.

SB 2179 addresses an issue created as a result of the relocation of the DPS headquarters to Pearl in Rankin County, set for 2025. 

Relocating the DPS headquarters to Pearl will establish a central location that will include the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer’s Training Academy, Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, State Medical Examiner’s Office, and Troop C of the MHP, to name a few, according to a prior statement from DPS.

The current headquarters in Jackson, built in 1976, includes an adjacent driver’s service station. The aging building is slated for demolition after construction of the new headquarters is completed, leaving the driver’s service station in limbo.

Commissioner Tindell said the search for a new location to house the driver’s service station is ongoing. 

Emergency Responder Benefits

Two bills were also passed that will increase the pay for a number of law enforcement officers and increase the death benefits for emergency responders funded through the purchase of blackout vehicle tags. 

SB 2285, authored by State Senator Brice Wiggins (R), will increase the pay scale for state troopers and others under DPS. Commissioner Tindell said it will also adjust pay scales for Capitol Police officers, MBN agents and MBI agents.

Starting pay for troopers will move to $54,000, making the salary more in line of neighboring states.

“The reality is law enforcement these days is a dangerous job and one in which we’re expecting more and more levels of professionalism from our law enforcement and expecting them to do more and more things,” Tindell stated. “The salaries really need to be commensurate with the duties and the risks of the job.”

Increasing the starting pay will be a recruitment tool for the agency and assist in putting more troopers on the road, he believes. Some areas of the state currently only have two troopers working nine counties at one time. 

“That’s just not enough,” Tindell said. “We need more, and we need better troopers for the future to come on board.”

The Commissioner said this change will be a recruitment tool to entice applicants for the upcoming Cadet Class 69. Tindell anticipates that class to produce about 30 to 50 graduates out of the 70 to 80 that will be chosen from the hundreds of applicants to undergo the extensive training. 

Blackout tags became available to Mississippi residents as a custom vanity plate back in 2022 and were expanded as an option for non-custom versions of the plate a year later due to their popularity. Proceeds from the sale of those tags are put into an account that provides benefits to families of fallen emergency responders. 

Tindell said over the past four years as the state’s Public Safety Commissioner, he’s had to attend funerals and visit the homes of the families of fallen first responders.

“They’re dealing with a lot when they lose a family member and one of the things that they don’t need to be worried about is how they’re going to pay their mortgage this next month or how they’re going to pay the funeral expenses of a fallen hero,” Tindell said. 

SB2487, introduced by State Senator Scott Delano (R), will ensure the funeral expenses for fallen first responders will be covered. Tindell said the new law gives him the discretion to pay the funeral home directly.

“It also increases the death benefits for those that died in the line of duty from $100,000 up to $250,000. That is a major increase in the death benefits for officers and first responders that fall in the line of duty,” Tindell said.

About the Author(s)
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Jeremy Pittari

Jeremy Pittari is a lifelong resident of the Gulf Coast. Born and raised in Slidell, La., he moved to South Mississippi in the early 90s. Jeremy earned an associate in arts from Pearl River Community College and went on to attend the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor's of arts in journalism. A week after Hurricane Katrina, he started an internship as a reporter with the community newspaper in Pearl River County. After graduation, he accepted a full-time position at that news outlet where he covered the recovery process post Katrina in Pearl River and Hancock Counties. For nearly 17 years he wrote about local government, education, law enforcement, crime, business and a variety of other topics. Email Jeremy:
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