The fate of Rep. Vincent Pierre’s push to restore Holy Rosary Institute at the expense of the Cajundome now falls on the shoulders of Sen. Page Cortez and Sen. Elbert Guillory following a decision Monday by the Senate Finance Committee.

Though HB 420 received unanimous approval, it came with a "caveat" from Finance Committee member Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, who tells The IND the legislation still needs work.

 Photo taken from Holy Rosary Redevelopment's website

At issue is Pierre’s call for pulling $200,000 in hotel/motel tax dollars from the Cajundome and its Convention Center, which since 1998 has used those funds for the upkeep of its aging facilities.

Restoring the dilapidated Holy Rosary, once a boarding school for black students, is a worthwhile endeavor. Oversight, or lack thereof, however, has been the biggest problem surrounding Pierre’s legislation, raising such questions as: Who will be in charge of the funds? What are the plans for the site’s redevelopment? Why will the funds go to a private nonprofit and not the property’s owners? And is it even legal to redirect taxpayer money from a public to a private institution?

Though Pierre did respond in a letter to The IND explaining the importance of Holy Rosary and the benefits of his bill, he side-stepped all the above questions.

Mills, who also has been leery of the legislation’s call for pulling the much-needed funding away from the Cajundome, says the responsibility of finding a middle-ground now falls on the two senators affected by the bill: Cortez, R-Lafayette, and Guillory, D-Opelousas.

The Cajundome lies within Cortez’s district, whereas Holy Rosary is located in Guillory’s, and according to Mills, it will be their responsibility to develop a set of amendments that “all sides can be happy with.”

“The bill is not ready, but since it only deals with local funds, we didn’t see it as an issue to debate in Senate Finance because it basically only impacts how the pie is split in Lafayette Parish and not the whole state,” says Mills. “It was moved to the Senate for further discussion, but I made sure to add the caveat statement that there will be more work done on this by local senators before it comes back up. Senators Cortez and Guillory will work on a set of amendments and then it’ll go before the full Senate for further discussion.”

In a report by Mike Hasten of Gannett's Capital Bureau (Gannett owns The Daily Advertiser), Guillory notes that the forthcoming changes to the legislation will deal with ensuring the redirection of funds is handled “in a proper fashion,” including “some oversight and ... a procedure getting state money into the hands of the person to do that restoration.”

When the amended bill will be brought before the full Senate is unclear, says Mills.

“A timeline is hard to predict,” notes Mills. “But if the bill comes out of the Senate, then it’s up to the House to accept the amended bill or not. From there it may go to a Conference Committee made up of three senators and three reps, all probably from the Lafayette area.”

Following Monday's Session, a mass email was sent to the press, local officials and state lawmakers by Lafayette community activist Carol Ross. Her questions are below:

The bill has been amended several times as it has made its way through the legislative process, but still needs to be "fixed?"

How can you "fix" it? Let us count the ways:

• Can you fix it by amending the part of the state Constitution that prohibits and transfer or donation of public funds to a private entity?

• Can you fix it by not taking funds from a state owned, city run facility such as the Cajundome and Convention Center, which are used to retire bonds and properly operate and maintain this great facility?

• Can you fix it by reconciling to whom the money goes? The building is owned by the Sisters of the Holy Family, but the money goes to a group called Holy Rosary Redevelopment.

• Can you fix it by determining how the building will be used? Those applying for the funding have said they don't know how it will be used, or how it qualifies for tourism related dollars.

• Can you fix it by telling every other "historic" and/or "religious" facility that they do not qualify for a perpetual source of state money? Imagine a historic but abandoned mosque applying for such funds.

• Can you fix it by assuring the taxpayers of this state that this is not another boondoggle - really?

The clear answer to all of the above is — the bill cannot be fixed and should be killed. As a taxpayer who supports the HRI redevelopment and has contributed my own money to this project, I respectfully request that you vote "NO" on HR 420.

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