BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican state lawmakers bristling at Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to extend Louisiana’s stay-at-home order through May 15 are considering the extraordinary step of trying to override the Democratic governor’s emergency decision-making about the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
While Edwards was in Washington for a Wednesday meeting with President Donald Trump about Louisiana’s response to the COVID-19 disease, some GOP legislators — primarily in the House — were trying to rally support for a rare legal maneuver that would allow them to overturn possibly some or all of the governor’s disaster orders and proclamations.
“We’re all frustrated. It’s leading to conversations with the constituency back home and with the Legislature about whether the governor is making the right decisions for the state,” said Rep. Blake Miguez, leader of the House Republican delegation.
Edwards’ announcement that he would maintain the order banning most public gatherings and shuttering certain businesses for another two weeks with only minor changes was a surprise to GOP lawmakers. They believed the governor appeared ready to start loosening restrictions as Louisiana showed statewide improvement in battling the outbreak in one of the nation’s earliest hot spots for the virus, as unemployment skyrockets and businesses teeter on bankruptcy.
Edwards told Republican legislative leaders only minutes before he announced his decision publicly, and he dismissed GOP lawmakers’ calls to consider a parish-by-parish or regional approach to reopening.
“All we have been informed of us is very broad brush strokes. That’s where my members have a lot of concerns. They don’t feel like they’ve been getting answers when they try to delve deeper into the numbers,” said Republican Senate President Page Cortez.
Leaders of the majority-Republican Legislature, who had largely avoided public criticism of Edwards’ actions, have started ramping up complaints. Behind the scenes, they’re considering going much further.
A little-discussed provision of Louisiana law allows lawmakers, through a written petition of a majority of either the House or Senate, to revoke a governor’s disaster order. Republicans in the House and Senate have consulted their chambers’ attorneys to determine how they could apply that law, if they could pick and choose what emergency orders they want to nullify and what the implications would be on federal disaster recovery aid and on-the-ground response work.
For example, legislative leaders say they’re trying to determine if the action could jeopardize federal reimbursement for hundreds of millions of dollars in state emergency spending for virus testing sites, Louisiana National Guard assistance, a temporary hospital created at the New Orleans convention center and more.
Republicans disagree on whether they want to revoke Edwards’ entire emergency declaration and all the orders that stem from it or to pinpoint the stay-at-home order. Neither Cortez nor Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder have offered public support to the petition, though both indicated they’d consider it.
“We’re working on every possible solution to safely open our economy as quickly as possible and get our families back to work. One of the ideas is to override the governor’s emergency declaration,” Schexnayder said in a statement. “We’re looking into what, if any, unintended consequences that could have.”
More than 27,000 people in Louisiana have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 1,758 people have died, according to state health department data.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For others, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
Edwards said he’s extending the stay-at-home order because some regions — northeast Louisiana, the Baton Rouge area and Acadiana — haven’t shown enough progress in fighting the virus. He said infectious disease specialists and public health experts recommended the extension.
Republicans said they believe Louisiana meets the White House benchmarks for the first phase of economic reopening, and they said Edwards cherrypicked regional data to make a statewide decision even as he resists making regional reopening decisions.
Senate GOP leader Sharon Hewitt said she’s spoken with colleagues about revoking some of Edwards’ orders, but has questions about the ramifications.
“There’s a lot of pent-up frustration and a lot of disappointment,” Hewitt said. “We’re just turning over every rock, but this one’s got a lot of tentacles that have to be understood before I could really support it.”
Still, the petition only needs support from a majority in one chamber. Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh told KPEL radio he feels confident a petition can get 53 supporters in a House with 68 Republicans.