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VOL. 126 | NO. 39 | Friday, February 25, 2011

Miss. Lawmakers Kill Bill on School Land Deals

SHELIA BYRD | Associated Press

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – A Senate committee killed a bill Thursday that some say would've weakened the secretary of state's authority to approve leases on land set aside to benefit schools.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who'd been fighting the proposal, applauded the Education Committee's action. Currently, Hosemann requires school districts to have his office sign off on leases.

"I think it sends a clear message out that the Mississippi Senate recognizes that we need to treat our 16th Section lands like you treat a business, and as long as they'll support me, I'm going to keep doing it that way," said Hosemann, who is serving his first term and seeking re-election.

Every 16th Section of each 36-square-mile township belongs to the schools, and is leased out by the state to help raise school funds.

In its original form, the proposal would have allowed school boards and boards of supervisors to approve land leases without prior consent from the secretary of state's office. Under the bill, the board must provide the secretary of state's office with notice of the lease agreement within 10 days of its execution.

If the secretary of state objected to the validity of the deal, an action could be filed in chancery court.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Videt Carmichael, R-Meridian, had proposed changing the bill in his committee to create a study commission to look at the issue.

The committee voted to table the bill Thursday after Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, made the recommendation. The move effectively killed the bill, which had earlier passed the House.

Leaseholders for 16th Section land may own the buildings or houses but not the land they are on. They can lease the property and must pay property taxes. In some school districts, oil and natural gas are mined from the land with companies paying royalties. It's also done for timber harvesting.

Opponents of the bill said Hosemann's office has been negotiating higher lease agreements that are helping the schools. Hosemann has said before reforms were made in the 1970s, some deals were made for long-term leases that generated little money.

However, House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said there were complaints that Hosemann's staff was "heavy handed."

"I have questions about how they go about doing what they're doing," said Brown, who added that the issue will continue to be studied.

Carmichael said he had heard from numerous constituents, foresters, school board attorneys and others about the bill.

Carmichael said even though the bill was killed, "it served its purpose with the attention this bill has garnered."

The bill is House Bill 1278.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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