BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana House Republicans planned to file a petition Friday to revoke Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions for a week, as lawmakers finished a special session in which they sought more power over the Democratic governor’s emergency actions but appeared likely to see that effort vetoed.
House GOP leader Blake Miguez said Republicans are invoking a never-before-used process outlined in state law. He said a majority of House lawmakers have signed a petition to nullify the governor’s public health emergency declaration — and all restrictions tied to it, such as the statewide mask mandate and business restrictions.
Lawmakers intend to deliver the petition spearheaded by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, which aims to keep Edwards from enacting any more restrictions for seven days, to the governor later Friday.
“We’ve exhausted all of our options,” said Miguez, of Erath. “This is our only available option to reopen the state.”
The issue almost certainly will be settled in court.
The Edwards administration argues the law allowing legislators in only one chamber to overturn a governor’s emergency declaration is unconstitutional. That’s a point Schexnayder himself has made, but he changed his position on advice of Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Democrats called the petition “dangerous, reckless and short-sighted.” House Democratic leader Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, said Louisiana’s economy cannot be sustained if people are getting sick, and he credited Edwards with making decisions based on science.
“A petition is not a cure,” Jenkins told his colleagues.
House Republicans’ action came as the Louisiana Legislature completed its special session a few days ahead of its Tuesday deadline. Senators were not involved in the petition, and GOP leaders there have raised questions about the petition’s implication on federal coronavirus financing.
Republican lawmakers convened the nearly four-week session themselves, their second special session this year, hoping to curb the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, high school sports and other activities. The House and Senate, however, were at odds over the constitutional limits of what they could do to insert themselves more heavily into emergency actions.
After haggling, GOP lawmakers in the two chambers struck a deal Tuesday that would give them the ability to nullify individual pieces of a governor’s emergency order by a majority vote through mailed ballot, for any emergency declaration extended beyond 30 days.
While Edwards hasn’t publicly said he’ll veto the bill, lawmakers seem certain he intends to do so.
“Those negotiations and discussions didn’t progress,” Miguez said.
The governor has resisted efforts to curb his emergency decisions and objected to the entire special session.
“The constitution charges me with the authority and, therefore, the obligation to manage public health emergencies,” Edwards said this week. “You have to have all the tools necessary at your disposal.”
Republicans say Edwards’ statewide mask mandate, business restrictions and crowd size limits at football games and other events are too harsh seven months after the coronavirus outbreak began in Louisiana. Edwards has loosened his restrictions several times, noting his rules are in line with guidance from the White House’s coronavirus task force and are less strict than what exists in many other states.
Beyond that debate, lawmakers agreed to keep unemployment benefits and tax rates on businesses that pay into the unemployment trust fund at their current levels, despite the bankruptcy of the fund.
But they didn’t find a long-term fix to refilling the fund that topped $1 billion in March and was drained as hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs during the pandemic. Louisiana, like many other states, is borrowing money from the federal government to pay jobless benefits. Lawmakers steered $85 million to the trust fund to help pay for benefits, but that’s not nearly enough to reach solvency again.
The House and Senate passed new rounds of business tax breaks, including a multimillion-dollar severance tax cut for the oil industry, and backed a one-time November sales tax holiday aimed at helping people recover from the pandemic and this fall’s hurricanes. It’s unclear how they’ll cover the costs of the tax breaks.
They passed legislation to give more rights for family and clergy to visit patients in nursing homes, hospitals and other long-term care facilities during public health emergencies. They sent Edwards a bill that would give the House and Senate the ability to overrule a governor’s rejection of emergency elections plans.
Lawmakers added $20 million-plus in pet projects to the budget. And they steered $20 million in state surplus cash to jumpstart repairs to state-owned buildings damaged by hurricanes Laura and Delta, while they wait for insurance proceeds and federal rebuilding aid to arrive.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.