By Nick BeJeaux
Despite several annexations, attempted moratoriums, law changes, and reforms created to take it down, the movement to incorporate the city of St. George is still moving forward.
During the three months of the legislative session, the legislature either killed or abandoned a number of bills that would ban incorporation throughout the state, imposed a voting deadline, or mandate that everyone in East Baton Rouge vote to create the new city, not just it’s would-be inhabitants.
One of the more “strategic” bills was SB 647, which initially would have created a legislative study to determine the effects of incorporation on the parish. However, it was amended soon after its introduction, calling for a July 23 deadline. The bill died during the last days of the session.
Lionel Rainey, a spokesperson for the movement, has said on-record that this session was a success and that lawmakers “didn’t interfere with the democratic process.” Metro Councilman John Delgado, an opponent of the incorporation, agrees with Rainey that democracy prevailed, but remains hopeful that St. George will eventually fail.
“You won’t find a more political group than Congress – it doesn’t surprise me at all that it survived,” he said. “This is a dying issue, but it’s also a local issue and I think the Congress recognized that.”
Ryan Heck, also a Metro Councilman, is friends with Delgado, with whom he has agreed to disagree on the subject of St. George.
“Most reasonable people would agree that this is about quality education,” he said. “The powers that be, for some reason, don’t want to discuss education, and that’s very frustrating. If you’re not willing to seriously discuss problems, there will be consequences.”
Like Delgado, Heck easily sees why the St. George survived the session – he’s just more sympathetic.
“I’m not surprised either. This is a local issue,” he said. “Now that the session is over, I would expect them to continue gaining signatures and support before they have to file their petition.”
St. George supporters still have no time limit to collect the 18,000 signatures needed to bring the issue to a vote. However, representatives from the movement have been reluctant to say exactly how many signatures have been collected so far. However, according to Rainey, the issue is still on track to appear during the elections in November. The petition results must be submitted approximately three months before it can appear on the ballot, meaning we could see the results as early as August.
Heck expects that if incorporation ever makes it to the ballot and passes, the fight will not stop there.
“Whether the vote passes or fails there will probably be litigation,” he said. “It will be heard in the appellate courts, possibly even the supreme court before it settles.”
DIG will be monitoring the issue of incorporation as it develops. For more information on St. George, visit www.stgeorgelouisiana.com, or its counter-site www.bettertogetherbr.org.