A controversial bill to regionalize the state’s busiest airport could land on Gov. Phil Bryant’s desk sooner than expected.

State Sen. Josh Harkins
Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood Credit: Gil Ford Photography

The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, said he’s amenable to changes made to Senate Bill 2162 in a House Committee on March 22 and will recommend that the Senate accept the changes and send the bill to Bryant for signature. Senate members frequently defer to the opinion of a bill sponsor when considering a response to amendments made in the House.

Harkins’ original bill replaced the existing five-member Jackson airport authority, whom are now appointed by the mayor of Jackson, with a nine-member commission appointed by the governor. When the bill made it to the House, it was altered so that the new board would still consist of nine members, but most of the picks would come from the city of Jackson.

Harkins told Mississippi Today he plans to concur with the version the House passed on March 24. If his Senate colleagues agree, the bill would not need to go to a conference committee for the two chambers to work out differences; instead, it could go directly to Bryant for his signature.

“I’m fine with the changes if it helps quell this thing about Jackson not having a majority of the picks,” Harkins said.

The airport bill has been a lightning rod since before the legislative session began in January and the subject hours of debate in both chambers. Last week, House Democrats staged a mini-rebellion, asking every bill to be read, over what they said was a broken promise from Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to kill the airport bill.

In return, Gunn accused Democrats of using delay tactics and costing taxpayers more than $30,000 for every day the House’s work remained unfinished.

Despite the support from Harkins that would speed the bill to Bryant for signature, officials with the city of Jackson have vowed to challenge the law in court, which could be costly for both Jackson and the state and take years to resolve.

“Why would we spend money fixing something that’s not broken,” Rep. Chris Bell, D-Jackson, told Mississippi Today last week.

Shelia Byrd, a spokeswoman for Jackson, did not immediately comment on the House’s passage of the bill.

SB2161 at a glance

Members of the Jackson Airport Authority (as amended in the House)

The Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard, or his designee

The executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, or his designee

One commissioner appointed by the mayor of Jackson for an initial term of one year

One commissioner appointed by the Jackson City Council for an initial term of two years

One commissioner appointed by the Madison County Board of Supervisors for an initial term of three years.

One commissioner appointed by the Rankin County Board of Supervisors for an initial term of four years

Two commissioners appointed from Jackson by the governor for a period of five years. One must have a valid pilot’s license from the FAA.

One commissioner appointed from Jackson by the lieutenant governor for a period of five years.

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Ryan L. Nave, a native of University City, Mo., served as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief from May 2018 until April 2020. Ryan began his career with Mississippi Today February 2016 as an original member of the editorial team. He became news editor August 2016. Ryan has a bachelor’s in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked for Illinois Times and served as news editor for the Jackson Free Press.