No-city bill altered so parishes can opt out

A Louisiana Senate-passed bill that would put a moratorium on municipal incorporations advanced Thursday, but only after more parishes were excluded.

Jefferson, Livingston and East Feliciana parishes were added to 13 other parishes that would not be part of the moratorium. East Baton Rouge Parish remained in the bill.

Early critics of reviewing the century-old procedures claimed it was a backdoor way of sidelining a vote on forming the city of St. George out of unincorporated neighborhoods in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish.

“There’s a move currently in Livingston Parish for the community of Watson ... and, of course, this bill will stop that. That’s why we are opting out,” said state Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales.

Legislators gave no explanation for the other parish “opt outs” amended into the Senate-passed bill.

The House Municipal Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee put its mark on Senate Bill 674 then shipped the measure to the full House.

The measure calls for a moratorium on incorporation efforts between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2015, to give time for a committee to do a comprehensive review of state policies involving incorporations. The committee would submit recommendations for changes to the Legislature by Dec. 1, so those ideas could be considered in the 2015 legislative session.

SB674 is supported by the Police Jury Association and the Louisiana Municipal Association.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, where a St. George incorporation drive is ongoing, those behind the move would have until July 23 to gather the required signatures for the issue to be put to a Nov. 4 vote.

State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, said the same time deadline would hold true in other jurisdictions where petition drives are underway.

“If you have a petition to incorporate an area it allows you to continue to do that and the election would be held Nov. 4, 2014,” Dorsey-Colomb said.

As originally worded, the legislation would have derailed the St. George incorporation push.

SB674 sponsor state Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said that was never his intention and inserted a provision to allow the St. George drive to continue.

St. George organizers need signatures from about 18,000 registered voters who would live in the proposed city’s boundaries. Organizers have said they are on track to meet that requirement by June.

Nevers said he is interested in repairing the system that Louisiana follows when incorporating new cities or annexing unincorporated areas into existing municipalities. The Legislature must find a way to handle incorporations and annexations because the city lines set dictate where taxes are paid. The decisions can improve one area’s tax base at the expense of another, he said.

That’s one of the issues that has cropped up in the St. George incorporation push because the proposed new city’s boundaries included tax-rich Mall of Louisiana, Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Bluebonnet, and Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Just this week, the City-Parish Metro Council approved annexation of all three properties into the city limits.

The St. George move also prompted the filing of legislation to require a vote of the entire parish on the incorporation, not just by voters in the St. George area as current law dictates.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.

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