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Gov. Edwards releases letter in response to AG’s opinion on mask mandate

Louisiana

Livingston Parish News

BATON ROUGE, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Gov. John Bel Edwards has issued a formal response to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s letter earlier this week that criticized the governor’s statewide mandatory mask order, taking the AG to task for not attending critical meetings held by state officials making decisions about how to respond to the public health emergency.

The emergency order that went into effect on Monday mandates face coverings, limits crowd sizes to no more than 50 people, and closed bars. Landry, who is currently quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus, said in an opinion released Wednesday that the mask order is likely unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Edwards had already issued a statement calling Landry’s opinion “politically motivated.”

In a response addressed to Landry on Thursday evening, Edwards told the AG that his opinion “reminded me of the famous line that ‘everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.’

The governor said his actions are warranted by the circumstances and emphasized in his letter to Landry Thursday that the mask order is backed by federal leaders such as Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator of the task force.

Both Pence and Birx publicly voiced their support for Edwards’ actions during their visit to Louisiana on Tuesday.

I can assure you this is not because the Vice President was just being kind,” Edwards said in his letter. “The entire White House Coronavirus Task Force sees the same data that I see and knows the serious challenges we face. Dr. Birx warned me and the attendees of the meetings how perilous the situation is in Louisiana, stating that, at the time of my most recent order, ‘Louisiana was one week away from something really horrific.’ She repeated the Vice President’s support and further specified that the very measures contained in my order – mandating masks, limiting crowd sizes, and closing bars – are the exact same measures that are recommended by the CDC and the White House.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a letter to La. Attorney General Jeff Landry Thursday

Edwards also attached to the letter the series of recommendations put out by the White House for Louisiana that suggested these measures to slow the significant spread seen since the beginning of May.

The governor noted that Landry has not participated in the dozens of Unified Command Group meetings that have been held since the beginning of the public health emergency as officials have tracked the metrics and discussed measures taken in response, while “almost every other statewide official participates in these meetings personally.” This, despite the fact that Landry stated in his letter to the governor that he is the “legal advisor to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.”

Edwards also called Landry out for inconsistencies in his interpretation of the state’s constitution when it comes to the governor’s authority to take such actions.

It has been noted that your constitutional interpretation has changed dramatically in a mere four months. At your request, I agreed to have you participate in one of the press conferences at GOHSEP on March 18th. That very day, nine days from the date of the first confirmed case in the state, we had a total of 281 confirmed cases and 7 deaths. You stated that day that ‘some have asked me if the Governor has the authority to take actions like limiting the size of public gatherings, suspending legal deadlines, and ordering restaurants and bars to limit their service, the short answer is: yes.’ It seems that you either have forgotten these comments or changed your mind since then, because it is impossible to reconcile the comments. Certainly, the Louisiana Constitution did not change. In fact, the only thing that changed is the dire spread of the virus in Louisiana. As of this morning, Louisiana has 86,411 COVID-19 cases and 3,375 deaths. Further, the number of hospitalized patients in Louisiana continues to increase significantly, with the number of patients now (1401) approaching where the state was at the beginning of May.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a letter to La. Attorney General Jeff Landry Thursday

As of Friday, a total of 88,590 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Louisiana and 3,399 have died.

Edwards went on to note in his letter to Landry that several bills passed in the regular session that limit the liability of businesses and organizations from lawsuits alleging exposure to COVID-19, but that the laws eliminate that immunity if a business fails to comply with federal or state guidelines or procedures preventing the spread of the coronavirus. He points to CDC guidelines on face coverings as an example.

Thus, should businesses heed your opinion and not require face coverings at their establishments, they could very well be losing the legal protections provided to them in this past session. While you may not have considered this issue, I can assure you courts throughout this state will not have the luxury of avoiding this issue if businesses follow your advice.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a letter to La. Attorney General Jeff Landry Thursday

Edwards ended his letter with a pointed explanation of what a face covering is, suggesting that that Landry does not understand what they are and their importance in spite of signs requiring them being posted outside his own office.

Lastly, I won’t waste either of our time by confronting every single misunderstanding or incorrect conclusion you demonstrate in your letter. For example, you seem mystified by what a face covering is, when this is a term used by the CDC and is, ironically, contained in a sign on the front of your office stating “STOP – Face Coverings MUST be worn in this building Upon Entry and in all Common Areas.” In fact, elementary school children all across the world understand the meaning of the term “face covering” and the life-saving purpose of one. While I appreciate the bipartisan cooperation you evidenced to back in March, it seems that you have decided to abandon that effort. While that is regrettable, I will continue to do the best I can to use data and expert guidance our efforts to confront this historic crisis.

In the meantime, I sincerely wish you well and will keep you in my prayers.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, in a letter to La. Attorney General Jeff Landry Thursday

Click here to read the Governor’s letter to the Attorney General.

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