City and parish leaders met Tuesday to discuss Baton Rouge’s budget motel issues and came out of their meeting pledging to strengthen an ordinance that, despite having been on the books since 2018, has never been used to combat sex trafficking, drug crimes and other criminal activities. to properties.
“We don’t want ordinances that are just welfare ordinances,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Administrative Director Darryl Gissel.
The attorney reported last month that the parish town had never used the law to shut down or fine a motel operator for operating a seedy property. Following the report, representatives from the Metro Council, the Parish Attorney’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s Administration and the City’s Permits and Inspections Division -parish have scheduled their meeting.
“It was a very open discussion about the issues and how to resolve them,” Gissel said after the town hall rally.
A 32-year-old woman was fatally shot at an OYO motel off Interstate 12 on April 21. After the murder, The Advocate reported that Baton Rouge police responded to 11 shootings, 11 assaults, 13 burglaries, seven gun-related ‘disturbances’, four fights, 28 overdoses and one hit-and-run at the motel in the 15 months precedents, but no action has been taken against the motel operator.
A Metro Council ordinance passed four years ago had required hotels and motels to apply for permits through the parish town. The parish town, in turn, could suspend or revoke those permits because of activity that “adversely impacts the health, safety and well-being” of guests or people who live nearby. The activity that would be tracked includes the number of law enforcement calls recorded at locations over a short period of time.
Gissel admitted that the ordinance was not used as intended to control the seedier hotel and motels that caused problems. On April 22, he said no hotel had been fined or closed since the ordinance was passed, though dozens had never even applied for permits since the law was passed.
Issues with the order include complicated language on how to identify non-compliant businesses, a lack of funding for order enforcement and business monitoring, and the need to set out an appeals process for companies deemed non-compliant, Gissel said.
Changes to the ordinance will need to be approved by the Metro Council. District 9 Councilor Dwight Hudson, one of the few current members to serve on the council when the ordinance was first passed, takes the lead in drafting the amendments.
“Everyone who participated understood the value of the proactive nature of this order and was committed to seeing it through so that it was used properly,” Hudson said. “There are a number of issues to resolve, so it will take time, but we will start this process immediately.”
Councilwoman Laurie Adams, whose District 11 contains Motel OYO, also attended the meeting.
The parish-town wants to start requiring hotels to reapply for permits each year to help track name and ownership changes, which is often the case with places like OYO motels, Gissel said. The $100 application fee should also be increased — the amount is yet to be determined — to fund enforcement and follow-up provisions for the order, Gissel said.
Setting out the appeal process for citations is another element the current order doesn’t clearly address, Hudson said. Creating the process will likely be the heaviest of the changes needed, Hudson said.
“The other most important part is making sure the BRPD and the sheriff’s office identify the problem hotels so we know how to get in and verify their numbers and ensure compliance,” Hudson said.
As officials discuss changes to the ordinance, the licensing office has sent warning letters to hotels and motels that have failed to properly register with the parish town in recent weeks, said Gissel. About 50 of these companies had failed to register properly by April 22. That number had fallen to 33 out of 113 hotels and motels in the parish by Tuesday afternoon, Gissel said.
There are also 11 hotels and motels on the city’s “watch list” for excessive criminal activity, Gissel said.
About half of those on the watch list are located in Adams District 11, she said.
“I’ve heard from constituents from time to time about incidents that have happened in hotels,” Adams said. “The killing got more attention, and it’s sad that it was what it took, but it’s been happening for a while.”
The timeline for presenting the changes to the board is still unknown, Hudson said.
Hudson and Adams will meet with the parish attorney’s office next week to go over a draft of the changes. From there, those present at Tuesday’s meeting will reconvene to continue editing the project, Hudson said.