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Local bills still alive in State Legislature

 

JACKSON — Several legislative measures on a list of priorities for Natchez and Adams County are still alive despite having died in Senate committees and could see action by the week’s end, a local state lawmaker said.

Some measures introduced in the Senate this year by Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, including a bill to fund repairs and renovations to the Margaret Performing Arts Center, funding for the Belwood Levee project at the Natchez-Adams County Port and funding for a Proud to Take a Stand Civil Rights Memorial in Natchez all died in Senate committee.

However, House of Representative versions of those measures are still alive, said District 94 State Rep. Robert L. Johnson III, D-Natchez.

Johnson said his measures, introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee originally called for $4 million to fund the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center repairs and renovations and a separate bill to provide $38,000 funding for the Proud to Take a State Civil Rights Memorial to be built on the grounds of the Natchez City Auditorium to memorialize the wrongful imprisonment of hundreds of protest marchers in Natchez in 1965.

Both of those bills were merged and have been sent to the Senate Finance Committee, Johnson said.

“They are still alive, and they still have possibilities,” Johnson said.

The measures will likely come out of the Senate Finance Committee included in an omnibus bond bill, Johnson said, which he anticipates could happen by the week’s end or no later than the March 14 deadline.

“Bond bills are really tricky,” Johnson said, adding bond bills allow legislators to tag on measures that are important in their communities for funding. “Everybody tries to plug in something they want for their district. We’ve been successful in passing bond bills about two-thirds of the time. This is an election year, so we will probably end up with a massive bond bill.”

Johnson said in previous years individual bond bills get merged together into one big bond bill known as an omnibus bond bill.

“But, everything you have, doesn’t always make it,” Johnson said. “They go through the process and everything is in the Senate Finance Committee now. If it passes out of senate finance, it most likely won’t get passed out the way it is.”

Johnson said he would watch the measures through the process and try to make sure they are included in the omnibus bond bill.

Other projects Johnson said he hopes to see included in an omnibus bill include a measure to fund preservation of the Natchez bluff retaining wall and the Belwood levee project.

Also, a measure introduced in the Senate by Dearing to transfer ownership of the Natchez Visitors Reception Center and Natchez Forks of the Road properties to the National Park service, is still alive in the House, Johnson said.

“I’m sure we will pass that without any real problems,” Johnson said.

Transfer of ownership of the visitors center, city officials said, would relieve the city of the cost of upkeep and operation on the facility but ownership transfer requires legislative approval.

Other legislative measures Johnson said he is focused on this session include teacher pay raises.

“We are working very, very hard on that (teacher pay raises and education),” Johnson said, adding he is also working for state employee pay raises.

Despite progress last year in road and bridge improvements, Johnson said he is pushing for more transportation improvement funding this session.

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