Gov. Tate Reeves answers questions from the media after signing qualifying paperwork to run for reelection at the Mississippi Republican Headquarters in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday said legislative efforts at state control of Jackson’s troubled water system are “either a little bit too late or either a little bit premature.”

Reeves also appeared to question whether a controversial bill to create a new, separate court system for part of Jackson that would strip Jacksonians’ right to elect their own judges is fully baked or “meets constitutional muster.”

Reeves was asked about the bills — which have drawn national headlines and brought bitter debate on racial lines — at the end of an unrelated press conference on Thursday. The two measures are among a bevy of bills that white, Republican lawmakers this session are pushing over protests from Jackson’s legislative delegation and leaders of the Blackest large city in the country.

Reeves himself has clashed with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba over state emergency actions to restore water and have state police start patrolling parts of the city he called “the murder capital of the world.” But on Thursday Reeves took a toned-down approach while speaking about the fight between lawmakers and the city.

Reeves said he expects the federal conservatorship now in control of Jackson’s water system will remain so for years to come, making state legislative efforts to take it over moot, at least for now.

Senate Bill 2889, passed by the Senate and pending in the House, would create a non-profit “regional” authority to run Jackson’s water system. A majority of the board overseeing the authority would be appointed by state leaders.

But the federally appointed water system manager tasked with fixing the ailing system has said he expects to be in place at least five years. Reeves on Thursday said that federal control could last longer, up to 10 years.

READ MORE: ‘Only in Mississippi’: White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America

Reeves was also asked about House Bill 1020, which would create a separate court system and expand state police force patrolling in Jackson.

Opponents of the bill, including Jackson and Hinds County elected leaders, say the bill is racist, implying Black leadership is incapable of governance, and unconstitutional, taking away voting rights. The measure would make part of Jackson the only area in the state where voters don’t elect their district judges. Instead they would be appointed by the state Supreme Court Chief Justice and prosecutors would be appointed by the attorney general.

Reeves said he believes the legislation aimed at Jackson is “well intentioned,” but stressed it is an early draft and said his office is working with legislative leaders in part to make sure such measures “meet constitutional muster.”

READ MORE: Hinds County forces unite against bill to create unelected judicial district, expanded police force

The bill would also expand the current boundaries of the Capitol Complex Improvement District well north of downtown. Reeves in 2021 was a proponent of the successful push to have Capitol Police, once tasked only with patrolling state owned buildings and grounds, patrol the CCID.

Reeves, who oversees Capitol Police via his appointed director of the Department of Public Safety, reiterated his support for Capitol Police patrolling.

“Jackson is the murder capital of the world, and the thought of doing nothing is not an option,” Reeves said.

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.