A Baton Rouge lawmaker has filed legislation that, if approved, would permit all voters in East Baton Rouge Parish to weigh in on the city of St. George incorporation, rather than just those who reside in the designated unincorporated area, as current law allows.
State Sen. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, is sponsoring Senate Bill 63, which provides an exception for parishes with a population of more than 440,000, allowing a parishwide vote in a special election to determine whether an unincorporated area in the parish shall become its own municipality.
The bill would seem to apply only to East Baton Rouge, as it is Louisiana’s only parish with more than 440,000 residents, and, of course, is where the St. George incorporation effort is playing out. Colomb could not be reached for comment by this morning’s deadline.
Critics of the St. George effort have long called for a parishwide vote on the incorporation. Better Together Executive Director M. E. Cormier says she did not play a role in drafting the legislation, but her group supports it.
“We support everyone’s right to vote and the expansion of voters’ rights on issues that directly affect them,” Cormier says. “The proposed breakaway city of St. George would have a parishwide effect and deserves a parishwide vote.”
St. George organizers, on the other hand, are not surprised by the law-changing move ahead of the incorporation election. Since reviving the St. George incorporation petition drive in 2018—which secured the necessary signatures and was certified by the parish registrar in late February—organizers say they’ve anticipated pushback from opponents.
“Opponents of democracy will always try to change the rules during the game if they’re losing,” says St. George organizer Lionel Rainey. “It’s completely predictable and why we will win.”
The election for the St. George incorporation is expected to be held this fall, though the governor has not officially called it yet.
Similar efforts to allow a parishwide vote on the incorporation have been proposed in the past, Rainey says, and have failed.
“We’re optimistic the Legislature won’t pass it,” he says, “but we’ll be watching it closely.”