Louisiana attorney general asks judge to void virus rules
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Attorney General Jeff Landry is asking a Louisiana judge to void Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions and declare them unenforceable, in an ongoing legal battle over a House Republican petition seeking to revoke the Democratic governor’s emergency order.
The Republican attorney general, representing GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, filed court documents defending the legality of the petition that House Republicans filed trying to rescind Edwards’ statewide mask mandate, business restrictions and crowd size limits.
Edwards sued Schexnayder and lawmakers Monday, asking state district Judge William Morvant in Baton Rouge to declare that the governor’s emergency rules remain intact and enforceable — and that the petition process used by House Republicans to try to nullify them is unconstitutional.
Landry replied in his court filing released late Thursday, asking Morvant to force Edwards to terminate the public health emergency as the petition required and rule that the coronavirus provisions are null and void.
“The governor not only rejected attempts by one of his co-equal branches of government to provide input and oversight, but he also ignored the checks and balances that underpin our government. He then filed a lawsuit in an attempt to gain extraordinary powers unfounded in law ” Landry said in a statement about his court filing.
Schexnayder and 64 other GOP lawmakers in the House invoked a never-before-used process in Louisiana law that allows a majority of legislators in either the House or Senate to sign a petition to jettison a governor’s emergency declaration.
But the Edwards administration continues to enforce the coronavirus rules, arguing the law the GOP legislators used violates the emergency authority the Louisiana Constitution grants a governor. In his lawsuit, the governor also says GOP lawmakers did not follow the law’s requirement that they consult with the state’s “public health authority” before issuing the petition.
That’s left a cloud of legal uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus rules — and whether businesses, churches, schools and residents are required to follow them.
Complicating matters further, the petition signed by House Republicans only applied for seven days. If the clock started ticking when they delivered it to the governor Friday, arguably the petition’s provisions nullifying Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions could already be expiring — though the governor would have to issue a new health emergency declaration to reenact the rules under the petition law.
At least 5,705 people in Louisiana have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus, according to the state health department. Louisiana’s death toll is the nation’s fifth highest per capita, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins University who are tracking virus data.
Edwards has slammed the House Republicans who signed the petition as “reckless and irresponsible and unconscionable,” saying removing his coronavirus rules could jeopardize the state’s gains in combating two separate virus case spikes. He’s noted that he’s loosened restrictions several times since first enacting his emergency proclamation and that he’s crafted the rules in consultation with the White House.
Lawmakers who backed the petition effort said the governor has repeatedly ignored their concerns about certain restrictions, and they argue his rules are too severe nearly eight months after Louisiana saw its first positive tests for COVID-19.