Louisiana bill to limit governor’s role in emergency election process awaits House votes


BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Louisiana legislators will revisit a state Senate bill next week that would nix a governor’s power to veto an emergency election plan.

The bill would task a 10-member commission with deciding how elections proceed during declared emergencies. The secretary of state would chair the group and only vote when a tie exists. Other members would include the governor, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President and major-party leaders from each legislative chamber. Any plan they adopt would then need majority support from the joint Legislature — and no longer the governor.

“It’s all about having primarily legislative control over this commission, but making sure we include input from the executive in charge of this emergency and the executive in charge of elections,” bill sponsor Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) said Wednesday.

Hewitt claims her measure would refine a process she considers too long. Under present law, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin can only propose one emergency election plan at a time — before the plan must pass through a House governmental panel, then a Senate governmental panel, then the full Legislature, then the governor.

“You’re going to be in this never-ending loop,” Hewitt told a House committee, referencing current procedure. “Any changes to the plan, you basically have to go back to square one and start over.”

Ardoin, a Republican, has voiced support for the bill. His chief of staff, Nancy Landry, read a statement he wrote to House members Wednesday.

“By allowing multiple plans to be brought forward, this bill ensures that the secretary can take new ideas into consideration and propose a new plan immediately,” Ardoin wrote in the statement. “It meets everyone in the middle. It gives a voice to the governor, to both parties, the Legislature and the chief elections officer while improving the timeline of this important process.”

Ardoin’s support follows his multiple efforts — successful and unsuccessful — to enact emergency election plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It took him two tries to get a plan for summer passed, after legislative Republicans objected to a wider use of absentee ballots. His autumn plan died by veto, with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards claiming it didn’t let enough people vote by mail — a move that ultimately led a federal judge to revive the summer plan.

Edwards’ office does not see Hewitt’s bill as warmly, instead siding with critics who argue it would hand the Republican-led Legislature too much power — and subject election procedures to partisan fighting.

“You are creating some quasi-branch, some co-mingled branch of government.” Rep. Barry Ivey (R-Central) told Hewitt Wednesday.

Some House members reject the senator’s suggestion that Democratic and Republican caucus leaders serve on the commission.

“I don’t know why we would interject that into this,” said state Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans). “Once we start going down that path, we create more problems than we need.”

Under the current makeup, the commission would include seven Republicans and three Democrats.

“Do you feel that is steering away from focusing on good policy, toward somewhere where politics can become more of the conversation?” Ivey asked.

Hewitt insisted the outcome would be no different than in other legislative panels.

“We are all partisans in this building,” she told Ivey. “You registered as a Republican, Democrat, no party, independent or something. That issue exists in our current structure, and I don’t see how that’s any different.”

The House governmental affairs committee agreed to shelve Hewitt’s bill until next week. The pause gives the senator time to tweak her proposal — with suggestions from fellow lawmakers.

“Some of the feedback we heard is worthy of consideration,” she said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I’ll work over the next week and see if we can come back with a bill that’s a little bit stronger.”

Hewitt maintains it’s too soon to say which parts of her bill may change between now and the House panel’s next meeting, though she says she’s willing to clarify misconceptions.

“I’m not trying to protect turf,” she said. “I’m just trying to bring everyone to the table.”

Advancement would send Hewitt’s proposal to the full House.

The legislation, Senate Bill 20, would not affect how Louisiana voters cast ballots for the Nov. 3 or Dec. 5 elections.

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