St. George organizers question Nevers’ bill

Senator Ben Nevers
Senator Ben Nevers

State Sen. Ben Nevers said Friday he’s willing to adjust the time elements in his legislation order to please the promoters of the city of St. George.

A bill he introduced temporarily would stop the incorporation of new cities while studying the system for how unincorporated sections of a parish can become a city. He says the bill was not a slap at the St. George movement, as the supporters claimed.

“I was emailed and I answered that I want to come meet next week,” Nevers said. “I’m not locked into any date … My bill is focused on a statewide issue.”

Nevers’ Senate Bill 674 includes a two-year retroactive moratorium, from Jan. 1, 2014, through December 2015. Proponents for creating a new city of St. George read the moratorium language in Nevers’ bill and assumed the Bogalusa Democrat was pushing the legislation for Baton Rouge opponents of St. George.

“It’s awfully funny that he didn’t need to study this for all these years,” said Lionel Rainey, a spokesman for the St. George movement, adding that the only movement that would be impacted by the moratorium would be St. George.

Rainey said if Nevers wanted to study the issue, then he should have made it a study resolution rather than include a delay. “This is an attempt to stop the voters from being able to vote on incorporation,” he said.

SB674 would organize a joint committee of senators and representatives to gather information about the state’s incorporation laws and procedures. They would make comparisons based on information gathered from other cities as well as the Louisiana Municipal Association. The committee would submit a report in December and any legislation would be drafted for the 2015 session.

Nevers said it was an issue that always interested him and he hopes to clear up issues he has with the state law before leaving the Legislature at the end of 2015.

Incorporation determines which local government entity collects taxes from businesses. Nevers says in smaller parishes, like Washington Parish where he lives, there are so few major businesses that changing city limits could be a boon for one while bankrupting another.

“I just think in some of these instances, the entire community needs to take part in the decision,” Nevers said.

Organizers need to sign up 25 percent of the registered voters in the proposed new city in order for the matter to be put on the ballot. A majority of those voting from the proposed municipality must approve for incorporation to take place.

Nevers says state law, for instance, doesn’t put a deadline on when the petition signatures have to be gathered.

The St. George organizers want to put the question on the Nov. 4 ballot, said Norman Browning, one of the supporters. The petitions will have to be complete and turned into the Registrar of Voters by July in order to make the deadline for the ballots of voters in the unincorporated areas of southern and southeastern East Baton Rouge Parish.

“The thing about this is the people who vote are the people who would be part of the city. Why should the voters in Zachary and Baker and Central, Baton Rouge, have a say in whether we should incorporate?” Browning asked.