Yesterday, a pair of items of legislation which had passed the Louisiana House of Representatives and were making their way through the Louisiana Senate fell victim to what is now pretty obviously a body built to placate Gov. John Bel Edwards and keep a boot on the neck of Louisiana’s people. It was the Democrat-run Judiciary B committee and its chairman Gary Smith doing the deed on behalf of the Senate’s questionable president Page Cortez yesterday.
HCR 8, a suspensive resolution authored by Rep. Philip Devillier, would have stopped state regulators from enforcing COVID restrictions on bar owners and thus put an entire industry in Louisiana all but out of business. And HB 9, a bill by Rep. Danny McCormick, would have made churches exempt from public health restrictions, essentially wiping out the state’s efforts to shut down pastors like Tony Spell, whose Life Tabernacle Church has run afoul of the state by refusing to shut down according to its virus policies.
A Louisiana Senate committee on Wednesday killed two House of Representatives-passed measures that sought to chip away at the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
House Concurrent Resolution 8 by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, a Eunice Republican, would have eliminated state regulators’ ability to punish bar owners for violating rules meant to control the pandemic. While barrooms in parishes with low rates of positive COVID-19 tests recently have been allowed to open, they are limited to 25 percent of normal capacity. A bar owner testified the limits prevent him from making enough money to pay his bills.
DeVillier said he objects to bars being treated differently than casinos and restaurants, though the latter types of businesses have their own sets of restrictions. Public health officials say bars present a higher risk to public health and have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks around the world, including in Louisiana.
“At the very least, we should be consistent,” DeVillier said.
He further argued that bar patrons and owners should be able to decide for themselves whether to risk contracting the new coronavirus. Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat, countered that failing to control the pandemic will burden the state’s health care system.
The judiciary committee voted 3-2 to defer the bill, killing it for the session.
Senators by the same margin voted to reject House Bill 9, which effectively would have carved out an exception to COVID-19 restrictions for religious organizations. The bill would have nullified charges against Tony Spell, a pastor who has gained attention for defying mandates against large gatherings.
Rep. Danny McCormick, an Oil City Republican, argues such restrictions violate state and federal constitutional religious freedom guarantees. He also pointed to the role churches play in his part of the state to provide meals for the needy and support people going through addiction recovery.
“We can’t carve out exceptions for churches,” said Chairman Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled health and safety regulations do not infringe upon religious freedom.
Gary Smith’s statement is the classic politician’s dodge, and it ought to expose him to withering fire from the people of the state for three reasons.
First, of course you can carve out exceptions for churches. You can consider churches as essential businesses like drugstores and Home Depots and WalMarts, and you can do it for a very obvious reason – lots of people need church as an aid to their spiritual and mental health, without which their physical health could easily decline. That’s an argument which has been made before, and unless Smith has been living under a rock he damn well knows it. “We can’t” is a lie. They can. They choose not to.
Second, you wouldn’t need to make exceptions for churches or anything else if the Senate would simply pass HCR 9, the suspensive resolution which would end the emergency altogether and reopen the state. But it’s very clear the Louisiana Senate isn’t going to do that, which means every statement offered by Cortez and other members of his leadership team along the lines of wanting to reopen the state can and should be taken as a lie and a statement of contempt for the people who voted for them.
And third, the Supreme Court’s ruling on public health and religious freedom doesn’t require that Louisiana keep its churches closed to full capacity. The ruling states that in a public health emergency it might be permissible for a state to do so. HB 9 could have been passed through Judiciary B and on to the Senate floor, and it could be passed on the floor, and even signed by the governor, and absolutely nothing in that process would be even slightly outside the favorable view of the Supreme Court. It’s a complete non sequitur to say the Supreme Court has anything to do with his killing a bill that would allow Louisianans to attend church.
While Smith and his fellow Democrats were killing attempts to reopen Louisiana (two of the four Republicans on Judiciary B were not in attendance, which was awfully convenient), it was becoming quite clear this special session was nothing short of Failure Theater…
Now that Republicans in Louisiana’s House and Senate have muscled through a deal to give themselves the ability to nullify Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions, the waiting game begins.
Will the Democratic governor veto the bill, sending lawmakers home with little to show for the special session they called to try to curb his emergency decision-making?
If Edwards decides to veto the proposal, Republicans don’t have enough House seats to reach the two-thirds vote required to override that decision. And several GOP lawmakers in both chambers voted against the final bill.
Edwards offered no indication Wednesday what he would do with the legislation headed to his desk. But he’s previously criticized the entire special session and said he does not intend to give up his emergency authority, suggesting a veto may be likely.
Asked about the possibility Edwards will jettison the bill, the governor’s spokeswoman Christina Stephens referred to those previous statements. She also took a swipe at the hurried House and Senate passage of the measure.
“He will actually want to read and understand what the legislation does because it’s certainly not clear from that debate,” Stephens said.
Edwards will certainly veto HB 4, and he’ll do it for the sheer pleasure of making Louisiana’s Republican legislators look stupid. He’ll also do it because the Legislature – likely on purpose, as it looks at this point – has completely misplayed the leverage game by neither signing a petition to reopen the state, as statute allows, or passing HCR 9 in advance of HB 4’s passage.
They’re going to wrap up this session without having done a damned thing to lift Edwards’ COVID restrictions and put an end to the unnecessary economic cataclysm this governor has wrought on Louisiana. And then they’re going to attempt to blame this on John Bel Edwards rather than taking responsibility for their failure.
All the while as Schexnayder calls private citizens into secret meetings to browbeat them for criticizing this ridiculous Failure Theater exercise on social media.
One thing to be said in Schexnayder’s defense is he isn’t the fraud and Edwards puppet that Page Cortez is. But that is faint praise indeed.