A committee of legislative negotiators will try to break a logjam in the fight over the racial makeup of the Baton Rouge City Court.
The Louisiana House on Tuesday rejected 66-20 the Senate approved plan for redistricting the five member court.
The action sends the long-running dispute to a six person House-Senate conference committee for potential resolution before Thursday’s session end.
But prospects don’t look good as the divide continued among black and white members of the Baton Rouge legislative delegation.
The city court’s current districts result in three white judges and two black judges being elected.
The city of Baton Rouge is now majority black and some lawmakers, as well as a 2012 federal civil rights lawsuit, argue that the majority-white court needs changing. A federal judge has not ruled in the case.
The Senate approved a plan for two white districts, two black districts and a fifth at-large, city-wide district.
In doing so, the Senate rewrote Democratic state Rep. Alfred Williams’ House Bill 76 which would result in a majority black city court — with three black and two white judges.
Williams urged the House to reject the Senate version.
“It needs to go to conference so we can have further discussion,” Williams said.
But Republican Rep. Erich Ponti said the Senate has spoken “loud and clear” not once but twice in supporting what he called the “two-two-one” plan. The Senate voted last week to alter Williams’ bill, then refused on a tie vote Monday to strip the change.
Ponti said the at-large judgeship is a fair compromise because the voter population of the city is close to 50-50.
“You pled with this body just to let the Senate decide,” Ponti told Williams. And, he said, the Senate complied.
“I felt the Senate was going to do ... the right thing,” said Williams. “If they (senators) had done the right thing they would have done the three-two.”
Williams said he is hoping conferees can come up with a “reasonable compromise.”
One idea floated would involve a change to the three black, two white judge redistricting plan now, then change to the Senate plan with the at-large district next time city court elections are held.
That would allow a third black judge to be elected in an upcoming election to fill a vacancy created with the retirement of white City Court Judge Alex “Brick” Wall.