Move to privatize state parks halted – for now – amid heated debate | Mississippi Today

Move to privatize state parks halted – for now – amid heated debate | Mississippi Today

The state Senate on Friday approved a year-long study of the efficacy of privatizing some state parks and giving others to local governments. But even the study drew fierce criticism from some lawmakers who say the state’s neglected parks should be spruced up, not given away or leased.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear serious discussion of, instead of doing the sensible thing, talking about privatization,” said Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “… Anyone who thinks (the parks study) isn’t an attempt to privatize state parks is mistaken. Look at where it’s coming from … We give billions and billions and billions of dollars away to the well connected, and billions of dollars to out-of-state corporations, but when was the last time we focused on the core functions of government? The pattern plays out — we neglect something, then let a bunch of big boys come in and take over and make a bunch of money.

“These public lands belong to all of us,” Bryan continued.

Senate Bill 2486 was authored by Senate Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Chairman Neil Whaley, R-Potts Camp, and backed by Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann. The measure originally would have left only four of the state’s 25 parks under Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks management. Others would be leased to private entities, turned over to counties or cities or converted to wildlife conservation areas.

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But after the bill sparked criticism and House leaders indicated it wouldn’t fly in their chamber, the measure was changed to create a study committee that would report back to lawmakers before next year’s session. The Senate passed the measure on Friday, but with a dozen senators voting against it.

Hosemann has said many parks could benefit from “an infusion of knowledge and capital” from privatization. Others during Friday’s debate agreed.

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