As Legislature nears end, focus on local and private laws

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2001

With the state Legislative session expected to end this week, local officials and state lawmakers are confident local and private legislation will ease through without opposition.

The City of Natchez has three bills pending before the Legislature. Two dealing with long-term lease agreements and another co-sponsored by Adams County to restructure the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

&uot;I have no reason to believe they won’t all pass,&uot; Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez, said. &uot;It’s coming down to the last minute, but local and privates always do.&uot;

Historically, lawmakers take up local and private legislation in the closing days, even hours, of a regular session. Both lease measures passed the House of Representatives Monday and were sent to Senate committees.

Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez, said legislation allowing long-term leases – for periods of up to 50 years – for city-owned property On-Top-of-the-Hill passed out of committee without opposition Monday, and he expects it to pass the Senate floor just as easily.

&uot;Once they get out of the committee, we’re fine,&uot; he said.

City officials hope to lure a hotel development to the property to complement the downtown convention center now under construction.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith agreed with Dearing, saying if the committees are responding favorably to the bill, the lawmakers should also.

&uot;We still have no indications there are problems with either one of them,&uot; Smith said.

A second piece of legislation would authorize the City of Natchez to enter into a long-term lease with the Department of the Interior on behalf of the National Park Service to use land near Natchez High School known as the beanfield for recreational purposes.

U.S. Senate Bill 2020 passed last fall clearing the way for the park service to lease the land to the city, but local legislation is also required, Smith said.

&uot;Any time you’re dealing with a long-term lease, you’ve still got to have the Legislature’s approval,&uot; he said. &uot;Whether you’re the leasor or the lessee, you’ve got to have authority from the Legislature.&uot;

A bill to downsize the EDA from 15 members to five, three from the county and two from the city, is also predicted to glide through without problems.

The state Senate passed it unanimously on March 14 and now awaits double committee approval in the house local and private and ways and means committees.

&uot;I don’t have any doubt it will pass,&uot; said Adams County Board of Supervisor President Sammy Cauthen. &uot;I may be too optimistic, but I think it will go through without any problems.&uot;

Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, was not available for comment.