Nevers to meet St. George group

Senator’s bill would halt breakaways

State Sen. Ben Nevers wondered with reporters Monday why none of the St. George organizers had contacted him about his legislation that would suspend efforts to create a new city from the unincorporated southern sections of East Baton Rouge Parish.

By the end of the day, the organizers phoned and set up a meeting for Tuesday morning.

Nevers’ Senate Bill 674, which would suspend the incorporation of new municipalities while the process is being studied, is scheduled for a hearing later this week. In particular, as now worded, the legislation would stop the effort to create a new city of St. George. But that wasn’t Nevers’ intention.

“I’m willing to work with St. George and make sure they can have their vote,” Nevers, D-Bogalusa, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “I haven’t heard from organizers.”

Later in the day, after hearing of Nevers’ statement, Norman Browning, one of the St. George organizers, said he would call Nevers immediately.

“Definitely, I’m going to reach out,” he said.

Nevers’ office confirmed late Monday that the senator had set up a meeting with some St. George representatives for Tuesday morning.

Nevers said he’s only interested in repairing the system that Louisiana follows when incorporating new cities or annexing unincorporated areas into existing municipalities.

To make the changes in the bill that would allow the St. George vote would require amending the dates that were listed in the bill, and he was unwilling to make the changes without first talking with the organizers.

“I wouldn’t want to amend something that they haven’t actually talked to me about,” Nevers said.

As it’s written now, SB674 includes a two-year retroactive moratorium, from Jan. 1, 2014, through December 2015. St. George organizers want to include the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

But first the proponents of incorporating need signatures from about 18,000 registered voters who would live in the proposed city’s boundaries. Organizers claim they are on track to meet that requirement by June, though they have stopped disclosing the exact number of signatures they have amassed.

Nevers said the Legislature needs to find a way to properly handle incorporations and annexations. Because the city lines set by these methods dictate where taxes are paid, such decisions can enrich one jurisdiction at the cost of another, he said.

“Until we resolve this problem,” Nevers said, “we will continue to have this issue facing Louisiana communities over and over.”

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.