BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Republican Louisiana lawmakers voted Tuesday to give themselves more authority to curb Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions and emergency powers, under a deal brokered between House and Senate GOP leaders that ended a stalemate on the major issue of the special session.
After days of negotiations behind closed doors, the agreement was included in a bill by Covington Republican Rep. Mark Wright.
The votes largely were along party lines, with most Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
“It’s no longer a situation where you have to have the governor running the entire emergency response,” House Republican leader Blake Miguez said. “This is to allow the Legislature to get involved in the process.”
The measure heads next to the governor’s desk, where Edwards could choose to veto it. He’s repeatedly said he doesn’t support any attempts to lessen his emergency authority.
The House doesn’t have enough Republican members to override a gubernatorial veto. That raises questions about whether lawmakers will return home without a permanent law change to the governor’s emergency powers and legislative oversight — the major disagreement between GOP lawmakers and the Democratic governor that prompted the special session.
Republicans say Edwards’ statewide mask mandate, business restrictions and crowd size limits at football games and other events are too harsh seven months after the coronavirus outbreak began in Louisiana.
Edwards has loosened his restrictions several times, noting that his rules are in line with guidance from the White House’s coronavirus task force and are less strict than what exists in many other states.
The process outlined in Wright’s bill would come into play when a governor renews a state of disaster or emergency declaration after the first 30 days of the proclamation. Edwards has repeatedly renewed — and tweaked — his public health emergency declaration and restrictions for months, since first issuing it in March.
Under the bill, 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 they could pick and choose which coronavirus restrictions enacted by Edwards they want to end.
Approval of Wright’s legislation in the House came with some confusion about what the Senate’s rewrite of the bill does. Still, GOP leaders rushed the compromise agreement to final passage, even though some Republicans in the House asked for a vote delay. Wright wasn’t in the House chamber for the vote; Miguez handled the bill.
Rep. Barry Ivey, a Baton Rouge Republican, urged lawmakers to slow the vote: “Let’s take the time and get it right.”
Livingston Parish Republican Rep. Sherman Mack said his constituents want lawmakers to do something to lessen the restrictions.
“I’m not saying this bill is perfect, but I do think it is a step in the right direction,” Mack said.
Miguez said the measure wouldn’t change a current process in state law that allows lawmakers to revoke a governor’s entire emergency declaration through a petition signed by a majority of members in either the House or Senate.
With Tuesday’s vote, legislative leaders said the special session, which must end Oct. 27, may wrap up a few days early.