URGENT

A Mississippi Bill exempts hunting incident reports from disclosure. The Senate passed legislation that adds hunting incident reports to the list of exemptions to the public records law. The bill earlier passed the House.

Critics say the bill restricts the public’s right to know about hunting accidents.

But House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee Chairman Eric Robinson, R-Quitman, argues that releasing the reports could jeopardize a criminal case.

“If it turns out not to be an accident, if it was foul play or murder, then it would compromise the investigation,” Robinson said.

Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said he was “confident” the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks would release the reports once an investigation is complete.

The MDWFP did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Barbara Powell, a lobbyist for the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information and Common Cause, said the language in the bill is confusing. The bill states that “hunting incident reports shall be exempt from disclosure and dissemination” under provisions of the current law.

“The way they worded it is that it never gives an end to that,” Powell said.

Powell said the February 2006 hunting accident in which Vice President Dick Cheney shot his friend is an example of the type of incident reports the bill would keep from public view in Mississippi.

Powell said in the Cheney case, the public knew what happened, who was involved, and how it happened. Under the anti-disclosure provisions, however, there will be no public record that anything happened.

Robinson said the conservation officers must have probable cause to test a hunter. Robinson said the agency has been requesting the legislation for years.

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