Local legislators ready to tackle slate of issues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 3, 2016


NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Legislature will convene at noon Tuesday, and while one spot — the contested District 37 Senate seat — will be conspicuously unseated, the rest of Adams County’s delegation says they’re ready to roll their sleeves up and get to work for the next 125 days.

Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez, will be entering his fourth term for House District 94. He previously served in the state senate from 1993 to 2003.

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Johnson said his agenda in the Legislature would be to continue the work of the last term — improving state infrastructure.

Johnson was the chair of the house transportation committee and the co-chair of the select committee on railway development in the last term, and though Johnson said he doesn’t know if he will keep those positions in the new Legislature, he will push for bills n those areas.

“I think that is a key to everybody’s economic development, so I will continue to push that effort in the Legislature, and specifically for southwest Mississippi, because we really need it here,” he said.

Johnson said he has joined with the Mississippi Economic Council, which has spent the last year hosting public forums around the state to find out what the public was willing to do and accommodate in terms of funding infrastructure improvement.

The result of those forums has been a proposal to address approximately $350 million in needed bridge and road repair.

Johnson said he would likewise try to work with the state economic development authority to get funding or other promotion of the Natchez tricentennial effort.

Rep. Sam Mims, R-McComb, will also be starting his fourth term in the House representing District 97.

“I expect us to have a very productive and successful Legislature,” he said. “I think we will work very hard on our budget. Our revenue is not exactly where we would like it, but we are in much better shape than a lot of states around the country, and at the end we will have a balanced, structurally sound budget without one-time money being spent.

Mims said he does not know for sure that he will keep the chairmanship of the House Public Health and Human Services committee, but he will work to keep state Medicaid costs in check.

“It’s a cost of nearly $1 billion without expansion, and I think we will spend a lot of time making sure we can get that under control,” he said.

“I believe access to health care is crucial, and to me that means having more medical providers come to Mississippi, as we have seen in Natchez, and we can do that through funding the Mississippi rural medical and dental scholarships.”

The state will also need to continue to look at rural hospitals he said.

“Not only from a health care standpoint, but from an economic standpoint, we need to look and see how from a state standpoint we can help small rural hospitals,” Mims said. “They may have to reinvent themselves, but there is still a place for them.”

District 38 Sen. Tammy Witherspoon, D-McComb, will be starting her first term in the Senate, replacing retiring Sen. Kelvin Butler. Witherspoon is a former City of McComb selectwoman.

Witherspoon said much of what she should expect is still up in the air — she’s only been to orientation with the lieutenant governor to learn policy and procedures so far — but she is “definitely interested” in funding education and economic development.

“Some of the things I am interested in are fully funding public education and economic development, and I believe a strong education system will bring forth economic development,” she said.

“Coming from municipality, I will also support sending funding back to small municipalities for infrastructure.”

Witherspoon said she’s also in favor of funding Medicaid expansion and giving more money to small hospitals in danger of closing.

Who will serve as District 37’s senator — the apparent winner by an ultra thin margin, former Sen. Bob Dearing, or incumbent Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who has filed an election challenge based on alleged improprieties, especially in Franklin County — will be decided by a legislative committee later this month.

District 96 Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia, could not be reached for comment.