Referring to Holy Rosary Institute as “sacred ground” is justified, so too is the need for restoring, after a decade's worth of neglect, the historic structure that once housed an all-black boarding school.

But it was The IND's questions about House Bill 420 (all stemming from its lack of details and a refusal by its author to shed any light on the matter to this newspaper and other media) that ultimately killed the effort to help Holy Rosary, says Lafayette Democratic state Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry — coverage they said constitutes “propaganda.” The blame game didn't stop there.

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Photos by Patrick Flanagan
Reps. Terry Landry, left, and Vincent Pierre, seated, during a press conference this morning at Holy Rosary Institute

“We had a dialogue going with all the stakeholders until one faction in this community stood up and made it like we were trying to take money, like we were doing something unconstitutional, like we were taking money from non-profits, while all we want is a share of the hotel/motel tax,” said Landry while speaking before a crowd of about 30 people during a press conference Friday morning at Holy Rosary. “From the start we didn’t want to bring the media into  it. We wanted to bring the bill based on its merits.”

Due to its brevity, the only identifiable merit of HB 420 was that it cast much-needed attention on the deteriorating condition of Holy Rosary. In calling for a redirection of $200,000 from the Cajundome’s cut of Lafayette Parish’s hotel/motel tax, however, details were slim, making no mention of the actual restoration plans, and aside from naming the non-profit Holy Rosary Redevelopment (not the property’s owner) as the sole benefactor of the funds, it was void of any oversight protections.

All of those issues were remedied once the bill made its way out of the Senate. Following an agreement in the Senate Finance Committee that the bill would need fixing before proceeding, an amended version was drafted by Sens. Page Cortez and Elbert Guillory. Unlike the original bill, the amended version called for the creation of an oversight committee, which would be charged with distributing grants specifically for the purpose of restoring historic buildings like Holy Rosary, as well as fund tourism attractions like museums. But nowhere in the bill was Holy Rosary mentioned.

The amended version was unanimously approved by the Senate Wednesday, and that, according to inside sources present on the Senate floor that day, is when things got heated.

The IND spoke with several eye-witnesses, all of whom asked not to be identified. According to one source, Pierre said he was "angrier than Hurricane Katrina" on the Senate floor Wednesday right after the revised version of his bill received unanimous approval, giving a tongue lashing to state Sen. Elbert Guillory and Senate President John Alario. The majority of Pierre’s anger, however, was directed at Guillory, who, according to our sources, was forced to call in the sargent of arms — similar to a legislative peace officer — who then escorted Pierre from the Senate floor.

In a phone interview Friday morning, Guillory confirms Pierre's comments. According to Guillory, "the young man's" actions did catch the attention of the sargent of arms, who took Pierre by the arm and escorted him from the room. Guillory, who switched from Democrat to Republican during the session, believes "rookie-itis" ultimately led to Pierre's reaction to the bill's revisions.

Guillory says the "rookie-itis" of Pierre and Landry started with their introducing the legislation without conferring with local senators and stakeholders who stood to be affected by the bill, along with their call for redirecting much-needed funds from the Cajundome to a non-profit without the needed 501(c)3 status. Furthermore, says Guillory, there was no source of matching funds in place to justify the redistribution.

"They just went about it with about bringing anyone else to the table," Guillory adds.

Though no mention of the incident on the Senate floor Wednesday was made during this morning’s press conference, Pierre did express his anger with what he described as a “highjacking” of his bill.

“They took this bill and totally gutted out everything we planned ... and created their own initiatives. That isn’t fair,” said Pierre. “There’s already a large group of non-profits getting those funds, but now the game has changed that we want some of those funds, too.”

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 State Rep. Vincent Pierre

In addition to laying some blame on the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce for its lobbying efforts, Pierre, like the speech delivered just minutes before by Landry, also claimed at today's press conference that the bill’s failure stemmed from a distortion of the truth by one media outlet — left unnamed by both reps — and an unidentified former state rep.

With Holy Rosary removed from any mention in the amended version (the likely cause of Pierre’s temper tantrum), the legislation by Cortez appears more like a fix to the existing legislation, drafted in the 1990s, concerning the distribution of Lafayette’s hotel/motel tax dollars. Cortez tells The IND that despite the House’s refusal to vote on the amended bill Thursday, which ultimately led to its demise, he plans to reintroduce the legislation during next year’s session, citing the need to better define how Lafayette’s hotel/motel tax dollars are distributed.

“One thing that surfaced with all this is there’s no way for historic buildings in our parish ... buildings like Holy Rosary and the Alexander Mouton home, to leverage state tax dollars for restoration and for making them into area tourism [attractions],” says Cortez. “I will probably be bringing legislation next year to do exactly what the amendments [to HB 420] would’ve done.”

Landry and Pierre have similar plans, both vowing Friday to do the same with HB 420, which they’ll also be reintroducing, though in its original form, during next year’s session.

Click here to read more on the amended version of HB 420.

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