La. lawmakers consider oversight over governor’s emergency reins

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana lawmakers have begun considering bills aimed at wrangling a governor’s authority over public health emergencies.

A House governmental affairs panel spent hours Wednesday debating whether Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ seven-month run of COVID-19-related declarations show an imbalance of state government power.

Members of the Legislature’s Republican-led majority claimed Edwards’ restrictions on occupancy and operation have caused economic and social discord, and they want a higher profile in handling future measures.

“The three most powerful people in any state are the Mayor of Chicago, the Mayor of New York and the Governor of Louisiana,” state Rep. Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) told the committee.

One bill would craft a five-member council that could renew, amend or end a public health emergency order 30 days after a governor declares one. (Members would include the state’s governor, attorney general, treasurer, House Speaker and Senate President.) The council would require a majority vote to override, though a governor could still enact a separate 30-day order.

“It would give us a voice, a voice many of us feel we do not have currently,” Rep. Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro) said.

Another bill would empower the state House and Senate to eliminate or change parts of an emergency order — without nixing the governor’s declaration outright.

“We should be able to go in and take out pieces we don’t like,” said Rep. Larry Frieman (R-Abita Springs).

None of the measures debated Wednesday would give legislators the power to propose emergency orders of their own.

The bills’ critics include Edwards’ allies, who argue the governor has been welcoming legislators into virus-related discussions since the pandemic started in March. Democratic representatives claim that passing these bills would cause too much time to pass, even if emergencies require quick action.

“I just see things not moving as rapidly as John Q. Public or John Q. Louisianian would want things to move,” said Rep. Sam Jenkins (D-Shreveport), who chairs the House’s Democratic caucus.

“If a little girl says she wants her eggs in a chocolate cake, we know that’s not what she needs,” Rep. Candace Newell (D-New Orleans) said. “We know she needs that healthy breakfast with eggs and milk.”

The House governmental affairs panel will vote on the legislation Thursday. Passage would send the bills to the full House.

The House hearings came the same day infectious disease experts warned legislators against undermining the COVID-19 outbreak’s staying power. State health officials count more than 5,300 virus-related deaths in Louisiana, as of Wednesday.

“The virus is waiting,” Dr. Jimmy Guidry told a group of lawmakers Wednesday morning. “It is waiting for us to say, ‘We don’t need to worry.'”

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