City Court elections vote delayed

A plan to move Baton Rouge City Court judgeships to at-large elections ran into trouble Wednesday. The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee delayed a vote on the House-passed proposal by state Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge.

Committee Chairman Sen. Jody Amedee said the legislation needs some reworking.

“As it stands right now, I don’t think it’s going to cut the mustard,” Amedee, R-Gonzales, told Ponti.

House Bill 1151 would get rid of five election districts in favor of city-wide, at-large elections. Ponti’s proposal is aimed at resolving a federal lawsuit.

A federal judge sees the fact that three of Baton Rouge City Court’s five elected judges are white as a failure by the Louisiana Legislature to recognize the city’s significant black majority. The plan was drawn in 1993 when 60 percent of Baton Rouge’s residents were white.

Today the city’s population is majority black.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson has warned the Legislature that he may act if the Legislature does not come up with a redistricting plan that accounts for that shift.

Ponti said time is running out for the Legislature to act. He said the at-large districts would accomplish the goal. City voter registration is 42 percent white and 52 percent black, he said.

“I look at it; you have the five seats and everybody in Baton Rouge has an opportunity to vote. No matter what the population is, you get an opportunity to vote,” said Ponti. “Everybody has a voice.”

But state Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Baton Rouge, suggested that would not have been the case 25 years ago if there had been at-large races. He wondered whether the U.S. Justice Department would have problems with the at-large plan.

“So far through this process that has not been an issue,” Ponti said.

Based on discussions with legislators and others, Amedee said he is working on an alternative: two white districts, two black districts and one at-large judgeship.