Louisiana House-passed bills strike at COVID-19 restrictions
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — As the nation processed the news that President Donald Trump has COVID-19, Republicans in the Louisiana House on Friday backed a package of measures aimed at unraveling the state’s coronavirus restrictions in an ongoing dispute with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The nine pieces of legislation vary in approach. One would overturn Edwards’ coronavirus executive orders for a month. Others would give lawmakers more ability to jettison all or part of future orders — or extensions of existing COVID-19 restrictions — the governor wants to enact. Another would require bars and restaurants to be treated the same in emergency orders.
“In order to have oversight, we have to have information and a seat at the table,” said Rep. Stephen Dwight, a Lake Charles Republican.
The proposals — which won support largely on party-line votes with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed — move next to the Senate for debate. Senators earlier this week unanimously backed a more modest approach that would give lawmakers more oversight of emergency decisions, but no new authority to jettison a governor’s emergency orders.
Negotiations between the House and Senate continue as the first week of the monthlong special session ended.
GOP lawmakers say Edwards has sidelined them too much from decision-making nearly seven months into the state’s coronavirus outbreak, and many of them say the governor’s statewide mask mandate, crowd limits at sporting events and restrictions on businesses go too far. Some Republicans want no limits on business or activities despite public health warnings about the need for restrictions, while others want to be able to cherry-pick which rules stay in place.
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican, said Edwards “is keeping his boot on the throat of Louisiana’s businesses.”
Democrats say the House-backed measures meddle too much in the governor’s constitutional authority to respond to emergencies.
“We don’t need a convoluted, protracted situation when we’re in an emergency,” said House Democratic leader Sam Jenkins of Shreveport.
Edwards has said he regularly provides information to lawmakers and speaks with them. He’s noted that he recently loosened restrictions and is following White House recommendations.
None of the measures backed by the House received enough votes to override a governor’s veto. But the temporary suspension of Edwards’ coronavirus orders for 30 days would sidestep his desk entirely.
Besides a prayer for Trump and his wife on the House floor in the morning, the president’s announcement that he tested positive for the coronavirus wasn’t mentioned during Friday’s bill debate.
“I don’t think that the president having COVID is any more important than every Louisianian that’s had COVID, so it doesn’t really change my perspective on it,” Rep. Julie Emerson, a Republican from Carencro, said after the House floor action wrapped up.
The chamber’s second-highest ranking Republican, Rep. Tanner Magee of Houma, said just because lawmakers want to review and possibly undo some of Edwards’ coronavirus rules doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about the pandemic.
“I think it’s a false narrative that we’re not concerned about public health. We are. We’re just concerned about both public health and the state of our economy and seeing how we can move forward in a way that addresses both issues,” Magee said.
The coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 5,300 people in Louisiana, according to the state health department. Earlier in the year, one of the House’s Republican members, Rep. Reggie Bagala, died of COVID-19. Several other lawmakers have had the illness and recovered.
The legislation is filed as House Concurrent Resolutions 9 and 15, Senate Bill 29 and House Bills 4, 11, 15, 32, 60 and 68 and viewable at www.legis.la.gov.