The Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee defeated legislation Thursday that would have increased the size of the electorate for the fall St. George election in East Baton Rouge Parish. SB63 by Local and Municipal Affairs Chairwoman Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, would have changed the referendum’s current guidelines and made the election parishwide, instead of limiting the ballot question to residents of the proposed city.
With the bill’s author chairing the hearing, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome addressed the committee as the primary spokesperson in support of the bill. Broome argued that the St. George election should be expanded because the issue has ramifications parishwide. “This bill has one purpose, to allow everybody to vote on the proposed city of St. George,” the mayor told the committee.
Responding to complaints that the St. George area has not been well-served by the consolidated government, Broome told the panel that her administration has slated a significant portion of new tax revenue approved by voters last year for projects in the region. In addition, the mayor also pointed to recent economic development projects such as the city’s new partnership with eBay. “The future is bright for Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish,” she said.
Briefly speaking on the bill after Broome’s testimony, Colomb echoed the mayor’s sentiment, arguing the creation of a new city was an issue that would have major economic and political consequences. “The St. George issue is like a divorce,” she said. “It affects everybody who lives in the parish.”
Despite the arguments from both Broome and Colomb, the committee largely split along partisan lines in a four to three vote to involuntarily defer the bill.
Political consultant Lionel Rainey III, who has been active in the St. George effort, said that while supporters of incorporation are pleased with the committee’s decision to effectively defeat Colomb’s bill, their focus remains on the future. “We’re not spiking the ball,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
Rainey added that despite their legislative victory, the St. George petitioners are preparing for a court battle with the city-parish government before voters head to the polls on Oct. 12. “The City of Baton Rouge clearly stated that they have a lawsuit on their desk, prepared to file,” he said. “We could win this election and they will probably still file a suit.
Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com.