Louisiana Session Winds Down After GOP Virus Oversight Deal

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House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, in Baton Rouge, La., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

BATON ROUGE (AP) — 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.

After days of negotiations behind closed doors, Republican legislative leaders brokered a deal on the language that would hand lawmakers more authority over a governor’s emergency decisions, when an emergency declaration is renewed beyond the first 30 days.

The House and Senate rushed through final votes on the bill Tuesday evening — even though some Republicans suggested they were not entirely clear what its effects would be. The GOP compromise was included in a measure by Covington Republican Rep. Mark Wright, who was not even in the House for the final vote on his bill.

Wright’s bill would come into play if a governor renews a state of disaster or emergency declaration beyond the first 30 days of the proclamation. Edwards has repeatedly renewed his public health emergency declaration and coronavirus restrictions for months, since first issuing them in March.

Under the measure, if one of the top two elected leaders of both the House and Senate agree that provisions of a governor’s renewed order exceed his authority or “are not narrowly tailored to address the disaster,” they could ask lawmakers to vote by mailed ballot on whether to revoke individual sections of that order. That means a majority of the House and Senate could pick and choose which of Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions they want to end.

The conservative think tank Pelican Institute for Public Policy urged the governor to allow the measure to become law, though its CEO Daniel Erspamer said it “does not go far enough to address the imbalance that exists in our current emergency powers structure.”

“That said, we appreciate lawmakers coming together throughout the legislative process to advance a compromise measure to the governor’s desk,” Erspamer said in a statement. “Checks and balances are a bedrock principle of the American system of government.”

As the veto threat loomed, lawmakers were readying to wrap up the special session that must end Tuesday.

The House gave final passage to a bill by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, to create a one-time sales tax holiday on Nov. 20 and 21, pitched as a recovery measure for people affected by the pandemic and Hurricanes Laura and Delta. Estimated lost tax income is $4.5 million.

Awaiting a final vote from the Senate is a proposal that would require Louisiana’s Department of Health to create rules requiring hospitals and nursing homes to allow pastors, priests and other clergy members to visit patients during the coronavirus pandemic and future public health emergencies, if the patient seeks the visit.

The House voted 84-0 Wednesday for the visitation bill by Sen. Robert Mills, a Minden Republican.


By AP reporter Melinda Deslatte

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