On their second try, mental health and law enforcement advocates convinced voters to pass a property tax to fund a psychiatric crisis center.
Money from the 10-year millage will go toward the newly-formed Bridge Center non-profit, which is considering opening up shop on the campus of Baton Rouge General Hospital.
Late Saturday and with all precincts reporting, the tax passed in a landslide — with 68 percent in favor and 32 percent opposed, according to complete but unofficial election returns.
"I'm just amazed. I never expected that type of support," Bridge Center Chairwoman Kathy Kliebert said in an interview.
She credits the proposal's success to a concerted publicity push — much more than had been attempted in 2016 when a similar measure failed. Supporters reached out to the media and attended many community meetings, even if it was just to explain the tax to five or ten people at a time, Kliebert said.
Once voters understood what they were getting, Bridge Center advocates were able to win them over, she continued.
The 1.5-mill ballot measure had garnered 67 percent of the vote, with 93 percent of precincts reporting as of Saturday night.
Now, the Bridge Center will have to prove its worth, Kliebert noted.
Tax money won't be available until 2020, but she hopes the city-parish will loan the non-profit some money to get off the ground more quickly. It will still take about six to nine months to staff up and get ready to open, she said.
The Baton Rouge General Hospital campus is the most likely home for the center.
The Bridge Center proposal had won enthusiastic support from local criminal justice leaders, who wanted an option other than the jail or emergency room when officers encounter people who urgent psychiatric help. Proponents said it would unclog the jail and courts and give people with mental illness the help they need while saving the parish money associated with housing and caring for inmates.
Detractors generally acknowledged the need for a crisis center, they just questioned whether it could be funded through existing revenue and whether the collections could go toward a government entity like Capital Area Human Services rather than a separate non-profit.