‘Landowners’ Tort Reform Bill Would Mean ‘Safe Zones’ for Crime, Critics Say

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Mississippi senators delighted the business community last week when they passed a bill to cut down on lawsuits against property owners, but strong opposition remains among law enforcement, advocates for victims of domestic violence and lawyers.

Senate Bill 2901, also known as the Landowners Protection Act, would protect property owners from being sued if a third party causes an injury on their property. Under the bill, a property owner would only be held liable if he or she "actively and affirmatively, with a degree of conscious decision-making, impelled the conduct of said third party."

House Bill 337, awaiting a vote in the other legislative chamber, is nearly identical.

If either becomes law, opponents say, businesses would no longer be as fearful of lawsuits and would spend less on security measures like surveillance, personnel and lighting. That, they say, would place a heavier burden on law enforcement.

The bill "would tell law enforcement officers that you appreciate their service," but that "you need them to do a little more, even though you know they are overworked and underpaid," Washington County Sheriff Milton Gaston Sr. wrote in a Feb. 4 letter addressed to House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. As lieutenant governor, Reeves also serves as president of the Mississippi Senate.

"You need them to micromanage everyone's property because it will save those who can afford to pay for their own insurance and protection even more money," he wrote.

'Law Enforcement Would Be Hampered in Solving Crimes'

In an undated letter to the Legislature last week, District Attorney Scott Colom expressed similar concerns, writing that such a law would be "antithetical" to his mission of "prosecuting violent crimes and offering suggestions to enhance the safety of my district."

He represents Mississippi's 16th Circuit Judicial District, which includes Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay and Noxubee counties.

"Shifting the burden of security

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