Sunday, June 23, 2024

Louisiana session winds down after GOP virus oversight deal

by Associated Press

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 wouldn’t say Wednesday what he would do with the legislation headed to his desk. He said he first wants to speak with the Legislature’s Republican leaders, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez.

But the governor repeated his previous statements that the Louisiana Constitution gives him the authority to manage emergencies, and he does not intend to give up authority. That suggests a veto may be likely.

Edwards also struck at some of the Republicans who have criticized his approach to the pandemic.

“I’m not going to surrender any authority that I have to other people whose approach is entirely unreasonable. There are folks here who either believe that it’s a hoax or they want to minimize it. They think we should have everything open without restriction and no mitigation measures in place,” Edwards said on his monthly call-in radio show.

“I’m not looking for an opportunity to invite those people into to being part of the decision-making process,” the governor said. “I will continue to make my decisions based on science.”

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 GOP compromise was included in a measure by Covington Republican Rep. Mark Wright, which was rushed through final House and Senate votes Tuesday evening.

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.

With separate unanimous votes, the House and Senate agreed Wednesday to rework Louisiana’s student discipline laws — in response to the suspension of a 9-year-old Jefferson Parish fourth-grader because a teacher saw a BB gun in his bedroom during online classes.

The bill by Jennings Republican Rep. Troy Romero will be named after Ka’Mauri Harrison, if Edwards signs it into law. Harrison was suspended for violating a policy banning weapons at schools after a teacher saw the gun in his room as he took a test via computer. Romero’s bill would give students and their families more options to appeal similar disciplinary decisions.

The House gave final passage to a bill by Schexnayder 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.

A 69-17 House vote Wednesday sent the governor a proposal by Eunice Republican Rep. Phillip DeVillier that would create a three-year, multimillion-dollar severance tax break for the oil industry.

The bills are filed as House Bill 4, 29 and 83.

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