Bill would change Baton Rouge city court districts

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Legislation is headed to the full Louisiana House that would change the racial make-up of the Baton Rouge city court.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would make the five-member court city predominantly black.

“I bring this bill because I think it’s a fair thing to do for the city of Baton Rouge,” said state Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge.

Back in 1990, when the judges moved from citywide balloting to election from districts, Williams said the city’s population was 118,429 white, or 53 percent, and 96,346 black, or 43 percent. Created then were three predominantly white election districts and two predominately black ones.

The 2010 census showed that city’s black population at 125,155, or 54.5 percent, and the white population at 90,348, or 39.4 percent, Williams said.

“What this bill does is to attempt to realign the divisions that have been established by changing one of the existing seats to one predominantly black,” said Williams.

The changeover would occur with the first court vacancy after the effective date of the law. If there is no special election to fill a vacancy, the Division E seat would become the third predominantly black district.

The Division E seat is currently held by City Court Judge Suzan S. Ponder.

State Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, asked if all “interested parties” were in agreement on the change.

Williams said he has talked to all five sitting judges, who have registered no opposition. He said he also discussed the move with the legal and non-legal community, who agree “it is a fair thing to do.”

No one testified against the bill, House Bill 318.

The committee approved the amended bill without objection.