Legislators shed light on a wide range of topics

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, January 29, 2019


NATCHEZ — A state representative said he does not believe legislation creating an elected Natchez-Adams School Board will pass this year.

The comments from District 94 State Rep. Robert Johnson III, D-Natchez came during Monday’s annual legislative breakfast sponsored by the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and held at the Natchez Grand Hotel.

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“I think we’re all for having elected school boards,” Johnson said in answering a question submitted from the audience, “but the timing is a problem. We’ve all introduced legislation for that in the past.”

While Johnson said he believes passing legislation creating elected positions for the Natchez-Adams School Board is not likely this year, he believes school boards across the state will inevitably be elected as the issue will pass statewide in the near future.

Members of the Natchez-Adams School Board are currently appointed positions and both the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors have voted unanimously supporting creation of an elected school board. Despite that support, Johnson said the measure isn’t likely to pass on a state level as long as the measure has local opposition.

Further hindering the effort, Johnson said, is that the current school board is doing a good job.

“The current administration is doing a very good job of moving the school system forward,” Johnson said. “We’ve had very good reports in the state Legislature about the progress of the school system.”

Other legislators in attendance Monday were District 37 Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez; District 96 Rep. Angela Cockerham, D-Magnolia; and District 97 Rep. Sam C. Mims V, R-McComb.

Now three weeks into 2019 legislative session, the legislators discussed the year’s progress and addressed issues of local importance as expressed by local leaders,

Including transfer of ownership of the Natchez Visitor’s Center to the National Park Service; funding for construction of the levee on the former Belwood Country Club industrial site; and funding for restoration of Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

Following opening statements, the legislators took questions from the audience that included members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors, the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen and representatives from Visit Natchez, Natchez Inc., the chamber of commerce and others.

Dearing, who recently announced his decision to retire at the end of this year, was first to speak and voiced his appreciation to the community for allowing him to serve for at least a quarter of a century as a state senator before he gave a report on his efforts this legislative session.

“I’ve introduced legislation for BP oil spill money for $2 million for the levee at the Belwood Country Club site,” Dearing said. “I’ve also introduced legislation (to Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell) for the greenery removal — and I see on this list here that it was for $130,000. Well, my attorneys couldn’t find the amount that we needed for this project, so we put $1 million in. So, anything that you have leftover, please return it.”

Dearing also said legislators proposed a bond bill for the last six years advocating $6 million worth of funding for restoration of the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center and introduced a bill for the transfer of ownership of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center from the City of Natchez to the National Park Service. Such a transfer to public property requires legislative approval. Dearing said he also introduced a senate bill calling for an elected school board in Natchez.

On a broader spectrum, Johnson said he discussed his push for House Bill 366 that was recently passed that would allow electric cooperatives to provide broadband connections in rural communities.

Meanwhile, Cockerham captained the effort to pass House Bill 571 that would address the problem of human trafficking in the state and is advocating criminal justice reform to help those who have “already paid their debt to society” obtain jobs and voting rights.

Mims said he introduced a house bill calling for an elected school board in Natchez, and that legislators have been tracking deadlines to move each request forward in the timeliest fashion.

Mims said that for the Legislature to have passed two bills, House Bill 571 and 366, already says a lot about the progress of this legislative session.

“In the first three or four weeks, to have something passed and the governor sign it is pretty impressive,” Mims said. “We’ve been busy, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the first several weeks.”