In a push sure to ignite controversy, voters throughout East Baton Rouge Parish, not just those in the neighborhoods that would make up St. George, would decide whether St. George would become a city under legislation filed by a Baton Rouge Democrat.
The measure, which was filed Tuesday, is sponsored by state Sen. Yvonne Colomb and backed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.
It would change current rules that say only voters in the unincorporated part of southeast Baton Rouge would decide the question. The issue is set to go on the ballot later this year after a successful petition drive by backers of the breakaway.
The office of Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday an effort to establish a new city of St. George won’t go before voters in the southeastern por…
Supporters contend the change is needed for a wide range of issues, including the creation of better public schools than those offered in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Opponents argue that if St. George leaves, the parish would be damaged economically, and that the parish cannot continue to splinter.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has petitioned Gov. John Bel Edwards to set a reasonable date for the election on the proposal to create …
No election date has been set for the issue.
Colomb's bill will be considered during the 2019 regular legislative session, which convenes on April 8.
Senate Bill 63 has been assigned to the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee, which Colomb chairs. The hearing is sure to draw a crowd, especially since the issue has triggered heated arguments for months.
Colomb could not be reached for comment Wednesday through her district office or personal phone.
Broome, who has long been critical of the St. George drive, said in a statement she backs the legislation.
"It is my responsibility as mayor-president to look out for the well-being of the entire parish, and for that reason I fully support Sen. Colomb's bill and will work to communicate its merits to the Legislature and the public," she said.
"This legislation would allow all voters who would be affected by an incorporation to vote in an election and have a voice on issues that could absolutely affect their futures," the Democrat said.
"This legislation mirrors the laws which mandate a vote of the entire parish when a new school district is created, and it only makes sense that the two issues should be in step," she added.
Broome is a former state lawmaker herself.
Drew Murrell, a spokesman for the St. George effort and part of its legal team, denounced the proposal.
"I think it is another shameful tactic on behalf of Baton Rouge city to suppress the St. George votes and to dilute our voting power," Murrell said.
"It is a prime example of why St. George is coming into existence in the first place," he said.
Asked if he thought the bill was filed on behalf of the mayor-president Murrell said, "I think everything is filed on behalf of City Hall. Absolutely."
"This is Baton Rouge city government trying to protect its turf."
Murrell said he is confident the push for a new city of St. George will win approval "no matter who votes on it."
However, he said is also confident that Colomb's bill will fail.
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, whose district includes most of St. George, said Wednesday he would not back Colomb's proposal.
"We told these folks once what is required for them to be able to get a vote," Claitor said. "Then we continue to change the rules on them."
"I would not be in favor of changing the rules in the middle of the process," he said.
State Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, whose House district includes most of St. George, called Colomb's proposal a bad idea that would undercut a citizens-led initiative.
"They have followed the rules," Edmonds said of backers of the new city.
Both Colomb and Claitor are serving their final year in the Senate because of term limits.
Backers of creating a new city – it would be the fifth in the parish – submitted 17,102 signatures in October.
The robust effort to create a new city in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish cleared its first hurdle Monday with organizers securing enough si…
A total of 14,585 were accepted and certified by the East Baton Rouge Registrar of Voters.
The push needed 12,951 valid signatures.
Colomb's bill would only apply to parishes with a population of more than 440,000. That means, in theory, it would be a mostly Baton Rouge-area legislative battle without affecting elections elsewhere.
State lawmakers often defer to the wishes of local legislators when local issues are debated.
However, this one is sure to split the Baton Rouge area legislative delegation.
The effort is the second of its kind.
The first one narrowly fell short of the required signatures to get the issue on the ballot.