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Economic development leader says Legislature’s session a success for area

 

NATCHEZ — The area’s economic development leader said the 2019 regular session of the state Legislature was a success for Natchez and Southwest Mississippi.

In a presentation to the Rotary Club of Natchez, Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ told club members Wednesday most of the items on the area’s wishlist for the Legislature were granted.

“It is probably one of the best sessions that we have had in the last several years,” Russ said.

Of the seven items that local officials listed, Russ said four items passed the Legislature and are now law or are on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.

Of the four items approved by the legislature, Russ said the biggest success might be the reinstatement of the non-resident clause of the Mississippi Motion Picture Incentive Act.

“It is a huge, huge deal that not only affects Natchez but is also a statewide issue,” Russ said.

The bill provides incentives to out-of-state production companies of up to $5 million.

Russ said lawmakers also approved $1 million for additional funding for the Belwood levee. The funds are in the state’s general bond bill which awaits the governor’s signature.

Other legislative successes for Natchez, Russ said, include money for the Proud to Take a Stand monument and the authorization to transfer the Natchez Visitor Reception Center to the National Park Service.

“Overall the legislative session was a good one for Natchez,” Russ said.

Russ said of the seven priorities set by local leaders, only three items failed.

Russ said efforts to turn the Natchez-Adams School Board into an elected body failed more because of local leadership than the lawmakers in Jackson.

“We could not get the local delegation to push the legislation,” Russ said.

In the last 25 years, Russ said, he has witnessed only one other occasion where a piece of legislation failed even though aldermen and supervisors unanimously passed resolutions supporting the effort.

Russ said he thinks Rep. Robert Johnson did not like the bill and would not help push the bill through the Legislature.

“I think (lawmakers) got calls from constituents that put them on edge,” Russ said.

Without support from the local delegation, Russ said, the bill had little chance of survival.

“If you do not have the support of your local legislators, those bills are not going to move forward,” Russ said.

Another bill that did not pass, Russ said, was a request for funding to perform vegetation removal along the scenic overlook on the Natchez bluff.

“It was determined that it was a (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) issue and not a state issue, so that kicked us back to the Corps,” Russ said.

Funding for the renovation of the former Margaret Martin School also did not pass, Russ said, after it was “yanked” from the state’s general bond bill in committee.

In all, Russ said he is happy with what was accomplished in this year’s Legislature.

“Any time you can get four or five items completed in a year, it is a good year,” Russ said. “We are thankful to the leadership and to the local delegation that made most of it happen.”

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