Local legislators ready to tackle slate of issues

Published 12:14 am Sunday, January 6, 2019


NATCHEZ —Mississippi Legislature convenes its 2019 regular session at noon Tuesday and area legislators said they have priorities they hope to see accomplished during the session.

Many of those priorities resulted from a meeting area legislators had with Natchez and Adams County leaders, who advocated for issues they would like to see accomplished in the upcoming session.

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Among the top priorities of local leaders is for legislators to approve a land transfer of ownership of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center to the National Park Service, which requires legislative approval, and to change the Natchez-Adams School Board to an elected body.

Elected school board and land swap

District 97 Rep. Sam C. Mims V, R-McComb, said he supports the land swap for the visitor center as well as the elected school board proposal.

“Those are two issues that I do support, and so we will work to get those introduced and hopefully have a positive reaction to those issues and others as well,” Mims said.

Dist. 37. State Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said he also supports both proposals.

As for an elected school board Dearing said he hopes the bill, which has received overwhelming support amongst city and county leaders, will advance out of committee this year for a vote in both houses. Last year the Mississippi Senate voted 46-6 for an elected school board for the Natchez-Adams School District only to see the bill die in the education committee of the House.

“Senator (Gray) Tollison (R-Tupelo) said he will take the issue up one more time,” Dearing said of the chairman of the senate education committee.

Margaret Martin renovation and civil rights monument

At a meeting last month with legislators and local leaders, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said some of the city’s priorities include funding for the renovation of the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center and construction of a memorial that commemorates the Parchman Ordeal, an event in Natchez during the Civil Rights era, in which numerous African Americans were wrongfully incarcerated in the state penitentiary at Parchman.

Dist. 94 State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, said he supports both of those measures.

“Those are things I support,” Johnson said. “The civil rights memorial and Margaret Martin would come under a bond bill if we have one this year.”

Johnson said he supported funding the “Proud to Take a Stand” monument during the past legislative session and noted it was a small funding project that could be funded through a bond bill. The Legislature, however, did not have a bond bill last year.

“If we have extra funding this session in terms of bonds and appropriations to funnel to the city and county, I will support the monument,” Johnson said.

Dearing, who has introduced bills to fund the renovation of the old Margaret Martin school in previous legislative sessions, said he hopes to try to get the bill passed one more time before he retires at the end of the year.

Recreation and law enforcement

Other issues Johnson said he supports include some other local measures brought up by leaders in Adams County and Natchez, including funding for recreation and law enforcement.

“I’d like to see some money for the swimming pool for the kids…,” Johnson said, in reference to a new community swimming pool Natchez and Adams County built last year and that is managed by the YMCA. Local leaders have said they are seeking money to heat the swimming pool for use in the fall and winter months.


Infrastructure, too, is important to Johnson, he said, acknowledging last year’s special session addressed much of the infrastructure funding problem through adding a state lottery and using portions of money paid to the state from BP Oil company for an oil spill in 2010.

However, Johnson said, would like to see additional money go to Natchez and Adams County for roads and bridges.

“I will still continue to push for bridge and road money,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we have come close to doing what we need to do to fund roads and bridges in the city and county,” Johnson said. “There is no reason people should be driving on and children should be riding in buses on roads and bridges that are out of step.”

Mims said he too believes infrastructure is an important issue for this year’s legislative session as well.

“We had a very productive special session in 2018 that dealt with our infrastructure so it looks like that should take care of our infrastructure issue, but we will continue to look at those to see if there are more needs that we can address,” Mims said.

State budget

As a member of the appropriations committee, Mims said he anticipates he will spend a lot of time on the budget this session.

“I expect we will have a similar budget in 2019 to what we had in 2018,” Mims said. “Most of our state agencies received either a slight increase in their appropriations or a similar appropriation as they received in 2018, and I believe that will continue as we go forward.”

Mims said he also helps manage six state heath care agency budgets, and he wants to make sure healthcare is adequately funded.

“I will be spending time with the agency directors listening to what their needs are,” Mims said, “making sure that we can fulfill those needs to make their agencies and run the most efficiently as we can, and so I do expect our budget for the entire state to be around $6 billion which is around the same amount that it was in the 2018 session.”

Dearing said passing a balanced budget, as required by law, is always a top priority and many of the funding measures that will be passed will depend on how much is available.

Dearing said he expects the issue of pay raises for government workers will be brought up, but whether those raises will come to fruition will be contingent on the budget.

“Being an election year, it may be a good time for pay raises, especially for teachers,” Dearing said. “But that will depend on how much is available.”

Dearing said if the Legislature does decide to give pay raises, one question would be whether such raises will be for one group of people or across the board for all workers.

“It is hard to give raises to teachers and not to other groups,” Dearing said.