On Friday, the Louisiana House of Representatives had a quite eventful floor session, and for those interested in seeing the Louisiana Legislature step up and reopen the state in contravention to the dictatorial impulses of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the events heading into the weekend were positive.
First, the House passed several bills with the effect of reforming the public health emergency law to remove the governor’s more or less unilateral power to declare and maintain an emergency. The most prominent of those is HB 4, by Rep. Mark Wright, which essentially establishes a 30-day period during which a governor may have more or less unfettered emergency authority – but beyond that point he or she has to get the Legislature’s approval to go any further. That’s a completely different approach than what we have, in that emergencies continue forever at the governor’s pleasure unless a majority of one of the legislative houses summons up enough vim and vigor to overturn them.
David Jacobs at The Center Square summarized the various bills passed, all of which with substantial majorities but none veto-proof…
House Bill 4: Would allow either chamber of the legislature to terminate an emergency order after 30 days.
HB 11: Clarifies that the legislature can terminate one emergency order without effecting other orders that may be in place.
HB 15: Would allow either house of the legislature to overturn certain aspects of an emergency order while leaving others in place. Under current law, legislators can only overturn the entire order.
HB 32: Would require all entities that sell alcohol to be regulated the same during a declared state of emergency.
HB 60: No public health emergency would be allowed to continue past 30 days without legislative approval.
HB 68: Would create a Legislative Committee on Emergency Declarations made up of the top two officials in each chamber, who would have the right to approve or reject an emergency declaration after 30 days.
The House also took a bad emergency management bill which had passed unanimously in the Senate, that being Senate President Page Cortez’ SB 29, and amended it to put more teeth into it.
But what becomes interesting now is what happens when the Senate comes back into session this afternoon.
The most important pieces of legislation the Senate will be dealing with are a pair of resolutions the House sent over on Friday.
HCR 9, by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, would terminate the current emergency declaration by suspending the statute which gives Edwards the power to declare a public health emergency until 30 days after the end of the special session. HCR 15, by Rep. Barry Ivey, would go further, extending the suspension through 60 days beyond the end of the 2021 regular legislative session or until the legislature lifts the suspension.
Update on Legislative Action for State Covid Restrictions and Executive Powers During Health Emergency In less than…
Posted by Clay Schexnayder on Sunday, October 4, 2020
While all the emergency management reform bills are nice, they’re really about addressing the next emergency, and likely with a different governor and legislature. It’s unlikely we’ll go through this again with John Bel Edwards, though perhaps not impossible. It’s also unlikely that governors who follow Edwards will be quite loath to engage in the same type of draconian emergency management as he has – as Jeff Sadow noted earlier this morning, history will not treat Edwards well at all for his having locked the state down and destroyed its economy.
It’s those two resolutions which really matter. They’re essentially the reason the legislature is in a special session. Whatever emergency management reform is passed is mere window dressing unless the legislature does something to reopen Louisiana now.
The Republicans in the House were unanimous in supporting the passage of HCR 9, or at least they were until Rep. Stephanie Hilferty went back and changed her vote to “no,” making her the only Republican in Louisiana voting to keep Louisiana closed. Now that it’s in the Senate, here’s what to watch for.
On the Senate floor, HCR 9 will be read in this afternoon and assigned to a committee. The issue of emergency management was dealt with last week in the Senate Judiciary B Committee, which is chaired by Democrat Gary Smith. That was somewhat peculiar, as the committee you’d expect would handle such a bill would be the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Republican Sharon Hewitt – who also chairs the Senate Republican Delegation.
Jud B moved SB 29 to the floor. It’s a 4-3 committee, with four GOP Senators – Kirk Talbot, Cameron Henry, Mike Reese and Ronnie Johns – and three Democrats in Smith, Joe Bouie and Troy Carter. Johns is the swing vote on the committee.
SGA, on the other hand, is a 5-2 committee, and all five Republicans (Hewitt, Barry Milligan, Reese, Franklin Foil and Brett Allain) are thought to be likely to move the resolution to the floor.
Either committee could move the resolution to the floor, but if HCR 9 goes to Jud B rather than SGA the proponents of reopening might reasonably smell a rat. Killing either resolution in the Senate – whether in committee or on the floor – would be an unmistakable exercise in Failure Theater, and it would bring back the question of the petitions circulating in the House to cancel Edwards’ emergency declaration.
And if Jud B kills HCR 9, there will be 32 Senators not in that committee who can throw up their hands and say “I didn’t vote against it.” Talbot, Henry and Reese will have voted for it. And Johns, whose swing vote would have killed the resolution, can say something to the effect he can’t be canceling emergencies while his Lake Charles-area district is destroyed by Hurricane Laura.
Hopefully that isn’t what happens. If the Senate is going to keep the state restricted under Edwards’ Phase 3, they at least need to be held to account for it.
Edwards, meantime, is ratcheting Louisiana down rather than opening back up.
For those unaware, this week, bar owners across Louisiana received a letter from the state reminding them of our strict bar restrictions. In that list, new restrictions or previously unannounced restrictions were included. The main restriction being that of bar games. No bar games are permitted, including pool, shuffleboard, darts, cornhole, ect. Also, no one who is under 21 is allowed to enter a bar anywhere in the state.
This week, the governor showed no remorse for the bar owners, their staff, or their patrons. In fact, he defended his incredibly ruthless stance against the industry at his weekly press conference.
He says, “It is a safer way to open and we were able to look at what other states had done and we looked at guidance that was being provided by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.”
Edwards and his staff have repeatedly said that bars create environments that increase the spread of COVID, and also he wishes to be extra-careful with colleges open.
“Right now people who are under 29 account for 40 percent of all new COVID cases,” said Edwards.
This week the Senate has the power to make all of this go away and reopen Louisiana in a similar vein to what Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee have done.
Either they’ll do that or it’s Failure Theater. Louisiana’s voters are watching.