New law approved by council Monday
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne’s proposed ordinance to make it legal for licensed drivers to operate properly-equipped golf carts on designated parish streets was passed by a vote of the St. Charles Parish Council Monday night.
The ordinance was drafted by Champagne in order to bring the parish into compliance with a state law enacted in 2015 that states the operation of golf carts upon any public roadway is currently illegal without a local ordinance. Though the law was passed three years ago, the practice remained common in St. Charles Parish. However, Champagne said safety concerns over the operation of the carts spurred him to action.
At Monday’s council committee meeting, Champagne spoke to the council members to highlight why he brought the issue to light and drafted the ordinance. He made clear, however, that whichever way the council voted, he fully intended on enforcing the law in place.
“Whether you pass this or not, we’re gonna be dealing with them, because we’re going to stop golf carts from riding on public roads if you choose not to do this ordinance,” Champagne said. “So, that’s fine, (if) you send me that message. We’re on a mission. We’re gonna stop it.”
The ordinance passed by a vote of 8 to 1. Had the council elected not to pass the ordinance, Champagne said his officers would begin writing citations for anyone driving golf carts on public streets. With the ordinance passed, those with carts can avoid that fate, but only if licensed to drive and if the carts are equipped and insured as per state law.
Among Champagne’s chief concerns has been the operation of the carts by children. He specifically cited complaints to his office by residents witnessing children riding the carts after dark and risking injury via traffic in the area.
“We’ve received complaints asking what are you gonna do about the 12-year-old kids and 13-year-old kids riding around in golf carts with no lights at night, coming out in front of us, not paying attention to stop signs? That has to stop and that is going to stop, one way or the other,” Champagne said. “Unlicensed kids riding at night, we’re gonna stop it.”
He said that the issue has gained relevance as St. Charles Parish has grown over the years from a rural to more populated suburban community, noting the state representative that passed the state initiative hails from Gonzales, “an exploding suburban community out of Baton Rouge” that Champagne said dealt with a very similar situation.
“It doesn’t take a high speed crash for a tragedy to happen,” Champagne said.
Some citizens who spoke at the meeting said that if carts were restricted in use or made illegal, older residents who have trouble moving around would lose a resource to get out and about. Others argued that operating golf carts should be illegal because they’re not bound to the same law as normal vehicles, that they create a safety hazard and that police resources shouldn’t have to be used to track the proper usage of golf carts.
Councilman Dick Gibbs raised the question of how the carts can properly be identified, noting a violation by someone driving a traditional vehicle would result in a license plate being reported or pulled up by police.
“(It’s the difference between) saying it’s a red golf cart vs. (saying) it’s a golf cart with a decal of HD1 on it,” Gibbs said.
Champagne offered a solution through his office creating stickers with VIN numbers on them to make them more easily identifiable.
“We’re not looking to make money … I’d be willing to supply this, if that’s what it takes,” Champagne said. “We go check the number on the sticker … we don’t want to be stopping them every time we see them. We don’t want to be the golf cart gestapo.”
The ordinance authorizes carts to be operated by a licensed driver on streets with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or lower, though each district will be permitted to amend what streets are legal if the need arises.