Legislators ready for new year

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Newly-elected state Sen. Melanie Sojourner joined the familiar table of state legislators Monday morning during the legislative breakfast sponsored by the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce.

NATCHEZ — Local state legislators shook hands, spooned some eggs and laid out their plans for the first session of 2012 at Monday’s legislative breakfast at the Eola.

Many talked at the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event about their intentions to make a dent in the committees in which they were recently appointed as chairpersons.

Rep. Robert Johnson said with all five local legislators as the chair of a committee, including energy, public health, forestry, labor and transportation, the group can do good things for southwest Mississippi.

“That is a very big deal,” said Johnson, a Democrat from Natchez.

Nearly every legislator mentioned concerns over another tight budget year.

“We can only appropriate money that the taxpayers send us,” said Rep. Sam Mims, a Republican from McComb.

Mims and newly elected Sen. Melanie Sojourner, a Republican from Natchez, said they would try to spend the money they do have efficiently.

“The budget situation is still very bleak,” Sojourner said.

Sen. Kelvin Butler, a Democrat from Magnolia, said as chair of labor, he was enthusiastic about finding jobs in the state to turn the budget situation around.

“(I will) make sure folks know where the jobs are,” Butler said.

Sojourner, the forestry chairperson, and Rep. Angela Cockerham, the energy chairperson a Democrat from Magnolia, both talked about the opportunity of bringing new industry to southwest Mississippi through the use of its timber industry.

The group also faced questions submitted by audience members, a group of more than 80 local government officials, school board members, business people and other active community members who sat over their breakfast at round tables.

One audience member asked about the possibility of Adams County benefitting from taxes that will be generated by a major expansion of Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Plant in Port Gibson.

All legislators said they had encountered resistance on this issue from other legislators but would bring it back to the table.

Each legislator also addressed at least a couple of questions about Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi.

Each emphasized any possible changes would not go into effect for current public employees but perhaps to new employees.

“A deal is a deal,” Sojourner said.

Butler failed to see any reason for a change to the current PERS.

“I don’t even know why the government brought that up,” Butler said.

Legislators were also asked for their opinion on the pardons granted by former Gov. Haley Barbour.