FAILURE THEATER UPDATE: The HB 4 Session Sellout

Yesterday, amid negative buzz surrounding Louisiana’s legislature’s poor performance on a number of fronts in the current special session, something involving an attempt at reforming the state’s emergency management policies actually passed both houses and was sent to the governor’s desk.

It won’t do anything at all to end the current COVID-19 economic shutdown.

The bill that passed was Rep. Mark Wright’s HB 4, which would change the state’s process of handling public health emergencies, and after having been slightly amended by the Senate it passed with 54 votes in the House yesterday.

Louisiana legislators have approved a bill that would let lawmakers change a governor’s emergency order.

Members of the state House of Representatives and Senate agreed to the amendments to House Bill 4, sending it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk where it may face a veto.

Under current law, either of the Legislature’s chambers can end an emergency order with a majority vote. The statute hasn’t been used and Senate President Page Cortez has suggested it might not hold up in court.

Under House Bill 4, which both bodies approved Tuesday, the governor would retain his ability to issue a state of emergency or disaster declaration, and still could call for a renewal after 30 days. But once the renewal is issued, the speaker of the House, president of the Senate, and the president pro tempore (the second-highest position) of each chamber would be directed to review the renewal.

If at least two of the four officers, including at least one from each body, agree that the renewed proclamation exceeds the governor’s authority or is not narrowly tailored to address the emergency or disaster, lawmakers would send the governor a description of their complaints. Legislative staff then would send ballots to the remaining members of the Legislature, who could cancel the executive order or certain provisions of the order through a majority vote of both chambers.

The bill by Rep. Mark Wright, a Covington Republican, is one of several instruments from Republicans frustrated by Edwards’ management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some lawmakers want to lift all the restrictions meant to control the spread of the new coronavirus, while others have called for tweaking the orders with legislative input.

Sen. Patrick McMath, the Covington Republican who carried the bill on his side of the Capitol, said some lawmakers are frustrated at what they see as “inconsistencies” in how the COVID-19 mandates apply to different businesses and activities. HB 4 would give legislators “a seat at the table,” he said.

Rep. Blake Miguez, an Erath Republican who has been outspoken about wanting to end the Edwards’ pandemic mandates, said HB 4 doesn’t target any particular governor. He said any governor potentially could become “tyrannical” without the potential to be checked by the Legislature.

The Senate attempted to screw with HB 4 by amending the language about petitions to reopen the state. It tried to force a requirement that a majority of both houses would be necessary to make such petitions active. That didn’t pass.

None of this matters, though.

None of it.

HB 4 addresses the next public health emergency. Not this one. The next time this comes up, in the event it even would, there will be a different governor and it’s almost entirely certain no future Louisiana governor will be remotely as willing to shut down the state’s economy and impoverish its people as Edwards has been.

Without the passage of HCR 9, the resolution that would immediately reopen the state now, HB 4 is an academic exercise, and everyone at the Legislature knows it.

And HCR 9 sits idle on the Senate’s calendar.

Senate President Page Cortez was overheard telling Edwards a few days ago that once the supplemental appropriations bill, which was loaded with pork projects for favored legislators’ districts back home, had passed the session would end.

It’s clear that Cortez has no interest in reopening Louisiana. He certainly has no interest in playing a leverage game against the governor, which passage of HCR 9 in the Senate would initiate. The game would work thusly – passing HCR 9 would strip Edwards’ emergency powers and reopen the state; Edwards would then get those powers back, subject to limits, if he were to sign HB 4.

But using HCR 9 as a threat to get Edwards to sign HB 4 is apparently the strategy.

Why would he sign it? The bill got 23 votes in the Senate and 54 in the House. They can’t override his veto. It does nothing to reopen the state now, so Edwards could veto it just because he can.

Moreover, the bill wasn’t passed until yesterday, which is less than 10 days from the expected end of the legislative session. The legislature will be gone before Edwards makes a decision on a veto, and because they’ll be gone the threat of HCR 9’s passage will be gone as well. Then he can veto the bill out of pure spite and political power, setting a major fire in the Republican camp by casting the legislative leadership in both houses as incompetent and feckless. He’ll end up with even more political capital as the public grows wearier and wearier of his shutdowns.

Everything about this has been played wrong, and nothing about it is complicated. The strategy is buffoonish to the extent it exists at all.

And meanwhile Schexnayder is dragging civilians into meetings to whine about how badly he’s treated on social media. Cortez, who now appears to be an even bigger traitor to the conservative cause than Schexnayder, at least isn’t that dumb.



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