A bill that would increase sex offender registration fees and use a portion for the creation of a new state trooper school is gathering support after Gov. Phil Bryant highlighted the need for a school during his State of the State Address on Tuesday.

“Currently, the Mississippi Highway Patrol stands at 161 troopers less than is statutorily allowed,” Bryant told the Legislature. “I ask you tonight to back the badge of our troopers and put more of them on the road.”

The last trooper school was held in 2011. Each year, the Mississippi State Troopers Association and Department of Public Safety have vied for state funding for another school, but budget cuts and shrinking revenue left them empty handed.

“I can just see the fatigue in these troopers’ eyes,” said Gayle McMullin, president of the Mississippi State Troopers Association and captain of the Highway Patrol Training Division. “Some of them are covering three and four counties.”

“I’ve been on for 29 years and don’t ever remember it being this bad,” she continued.

House Bill 505 would increase the annual registration fee for sex offenders from $10 to $160. The fee for those who must register or re-register on a quarterly basis is set at $40.

The majority of the quarterly fee and $144 of the annual fee would go towards the trooper school. The rest would remain with the Department of Public Safety to continue maintaining the online sex offender registry. It would take a few years to generate enough money for a school, but McMullin said it would prevent a situation like this from occurring again.

Although the fee increase is significant, Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton and chairman of the House Judiciary B committee, said the amount is still below what surrounding states charge.

The fees would generate enough revenue to graduate 15 to 20 troopers a year, Gipson said.

“We know that’s not as many as we need but it’s something that I think is a long-term solution,” he said.

Mississippi currently has around 9,000 registered sex offenders, Gipson said.

Rep. Tom Miles Credit: Gil Ford Photography

Rep. Tom Miles, D-Forest, also a co-author, has been vocal about the issue. Miles has sponsored bills that would increase a trooper’s starting salary by $2,500 and a bill that would provide for a trooper school class this year.

Miles said not only is Mississippi short on troopers, but also about 150 of the state’s current troopers are eligible for retirement.

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately,” Miles said.

Aspiring troopers must complete training in law, patrol procedures and functions, investigation and human behavior. They must also complete a physical training program.

The bill would require a 3/5 vote in both the House of Representatives and Senate to pass.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.