House approves long list of measures to limit governor’s emergency power

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

The Louisiana House of Representatives on Friday approved several measures that would rein in the governor’s emergency powers.

None of the bills passed with a veto-proof majority. However, two concurrent resolutions that would suspend Gov. John Bel Edwards’ ability to take unilateral action to fight COVID-19 also passed. Concurrent resolutions require a majority of both chambers but not the governor’s signature to go into effect, so those measures could give legislators leverage.

Though there is considerable overlap among the various proposals, lawmakers who support them have different goals. Some simply want to overturn all of the COVID-19 mandates, citing economic and social damage they say the restrictions on businesses and gatherings are causing. Others are thinking more long term, seeking to address what they see as an imbalance of power between the governor and the legislature in how emergencies are handled.

Current law allows either body of the legislature to overturn an emergency order with a majority vote by petition, but it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Legislators have never exercised that right, although House Republicans have attempted to gather the necessary signatures, and Senate President Page Cortez has suggested it wouldn’t hold up in court.

Rep. Larry Frieman, an Abita Springs Republican, wants legislators to be able to pick and choose which aspects of an emergency order they want to maintain or reject. He said he has been asking Edwards administration officials for weeks about the reasoning behind certain alcohol restrictions but has not received an answer.

“While the governor has communicated with us, it’s been more of a one-directional communication,” said Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican. “I don’t believe the legislature has been able to adequately participate.”

All of the measures in one way or another raise questions about the constitutional separation of powers. Rep. Sam Jenkins, a Shreveport Democrat, said some of the measures could jeopardize the state’s relationships with its federal partners that often are relied upon for funding.

“We don’t need a convoluted, protracted situation when we’re trying to deal with an emergency,” Jenkins said.

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.

Senate Bill 29: Would create a 10-member legislative committee to review emergency declarations after 30 days. The governor would have to consult with the committee about his plans but would not need their approval to continue the emergency order. Would require a majority of both bodies to overturn an order.

House Concurrent Resolution 9: Would suspend the governor’s authority to declare or renew a COVID-19 public health emergency until 30 days after the current special session ends.

HCR 15: Would suspend the governor’s authority to enforce public health mandates until after next year’s regular session or until legislators cancel the resolution.