The passage of HB1608 is the first step in restoring civil service protection for employees of the Harrison County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Troy Peterson said.
Authorization for its Civil Service Commission expired in 2013, he said.
State Rep. Richard Bennett authored the bill, which now goes before the Senate.
Peterson said he learned of the expiration after his election in August. He took office Jan. 4.
"I don't know why it expired and I won't even get into why they let it expire," Peterson said.
The bill passed 120-0.
A civil service commission oversees and approves personnel rules, regulations and polices of the sheriff's office, to include the hiring, firing, demoting or suspending of employees.
"It gives every employee of the sheriff's department a third-party outlook, a non-biased review on any type of disciplinary actions, promotions, everything," Peterson said. "It's not the same as an internal review. The commission is supposed to look out for the employees' best interests and make sure they are not subject to political firings or motives or wrong decisions."
Restoring civil service protection is one of the goals Peterson shared with the Sun Herald after he took office.
Disciplinary hearings have been set aside because the commission's tenure has expired, Peterson said.
"Our workers are working unprotected," he said. Previously, some of the commission's decisions on officer actions or possible misconduct depended, in part, "on who you knew," he said. "It wasn't done the right way."
If the Senate passes the bill, the new law would allow Peterson and his administrative team to start looking for potential members of a three-person board.
They will look for people in Gulfport, Biloxi and around the county with retired law enforcement or business background for reviews from different perspectives, he said. Peterson would appoint three commissioners to the board.
"The board has to be non-biased toward me and I have to be non-biased to the board. That's how I want it to be. If they go against me on a decision, so be it, but it's the right thing to do for the employees to be 100-percent protected at all times."
HB1608 would give civil service protection for all employees who have worked at least 12 continuous months.
The protection is not offered to the sheriff, chief deputy, majors, captains, officer in charge of internal affairs, warden or deputy warden.
The bill requires an account set up by the Board of Supervisors to pay commission members $100 per month but no more than $200 per month, with meetings at least once a month.
SunHerald.com is working on an updated report.