Let the gamesmanship begin, as legislative Democrats brought a knife to a gunfight with Republicans.
Louisiana Democrats, particularly Gov. John Bel Edwards, want to circumscribe the state Legislature in whatever way possible, because they barely muster a third of its membership. The longer they can jawbone their way into impeding the Legislature, the fewer policy defeats they will suffer.
The resistance has manifested in various forms. First, attendance for the chambers when they met, which seldom has more than a few members missing, were down considerably with just 78 of 105 in the House and the Senate had 23 of 39 (a few more would filter in, disproportionately in the Senate, as their legislative days progressed and had their names added as present). About half of Democrats played hooky as a form of protest to getting the people’s business done because they fear they won’t like the policy outputs, even as they present weak arguments to obscure that.
This truancy only has symbolic value since a quorum requires just a simple majority and Republicans could more than meet that. However, it will be interesting to see whether the absentee Democrats put their money where their mouths are and also file for leaves of absences, which preclude them from picking up their per diem payments. Chances are very few if any will behave in a principled fashion and, echoing many of their issue preferences, they will be getting paid for doing nothing.
Of course, Democrats make easier a number of legislative activities that could cause them heartburn by having relatively few of themselves present. Principally, chambers can suspend rules to rush along certain legislation that require only two-thirds of the members present in the House and just a majority in the Senate. The GOP leadership has given no indication that it won’t play nice and make Democrats pay for their voluntary absences.
Democrat legislators, as well as representatives of the Edwards Administration, also kept up the symbolic barrage by wearing masks and even gloves in many cases. (Legislative employees also wore masks.) But many Republicans eschewed these. Keeping up the offensive, in a floor speech Democrat state Rep. Rodney Lyons gently harangued GOP colleagues to put om masks.
Committee hearings also gave Democrats opportunities to throw desperation passes. For example, in the House Appropriations Committee meeting Democrat state Rep. Gary Carter tag-teamed to have Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne declare that the Legislature should work on the budget and emergency matters exclusively and that any special sessions should occur later in the year if needed to deal with emergency matters. This attempted to will away the almost-certain special session that will come right after conclusion of the regular session to deal with the operating budget as well as the legislative leadership’s intent to work on tort reform in the regular session, a policy outcome Democrats pathologically resist.
But the most consequential, by far, action came when Republican state Rep. Blake Miguez brought forth HCR 57, which would terminate temporarily the ability of Edwards to enforce emergency proclamations. This came on the heels of the GOP state Rep. Alan Seabaugh announcing he had the signatures to overturn the Edwards’ emergency proclamations that Republican consider heavy-handed and dismissive of regional or parish needs, and that he would take the next step in the process on Wednesday, the day HCR 57 will be heard in committee.
This means the measure has the chance to sail out of the House that day, which may be enough for Seabaugh to hold off. He may want to move forward anyway, as unless the Senate starts suspending a whole lot of rules and/or holding extra sessions at the end of the week it won’t be until next week that the Senate can deal with the matter and by then it would bump close to the May 15 expiration anyway. Suspension of a law takes the assent of both chambers, whereas the petition by law requires just acceptance by one.
Republicans may wish to follow a dual-track strategy here, because Edwards could turn around and reimpose the same order in the near future, so the petition could stop him now and the resolution keep him from imposing again for 15 days after passage. Regardless, either outcome signals a weakened Edwards that may encourage legislative Democrats to abandon and start cutting their own deals with the new sheriff in town, the Republican majority.