House Speaker, Senate President seek greater voice in emergency

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Monday for a 30-day special session and wasted no time to outline one of their biggest priorities.

Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, front, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, rear, conduct a press conference Sept. 28 to discuss the Special Session.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez told reporters just before the start of the session that they will introduce legislation that will give lawmakers a bigger role in decision on restrictions during public emergencies.

The move comes after Republicans in both the House and Senate have sharply criticized Gov. John Bel Edwards for his decisions on closures of businesses during the coronavirus pandemic that began in March.

“We could understand the reasons for the restrictions in the first month of the pandemic, but we never would have expected those restrictions to continue seven months later,” said Cortez, R-Lafayette. “The Legislature is a coequal branch of the state government, and we should at least have a seat at the table.”

Schexnayder has also said he wants lawmakers to have a greater role in the decision making on the restrictions.

“I think we would be better served with that on the executive powers as well as having legislators at the table to discuss these things that all of our constituents are concerned about,” said Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

They said the effect on the economy and daily life, in general, across the state led to their demand for a bigger voice.

Cortez and Schexnayder cited the 350,000 Louisianans who remain out of work, and the scores of small businesses which have shuttered over the last seven months.

The deep jobless rate has nearly dried out the state’s unemployment insurance payment fund, which has dwindled from $1.1 billion in March to below $100 million.

The fund will be depleted by next week if the state does not get a loan from the federal government. But the loan would also trigger a spike in the payroll taxes for business, while the weekly jobless benefit would be reduced to $221 – the lowest in the nation.

The effect on the state’s economy will also come into discussion when the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference reveals the effects COVID has had on the government coffers. The REC was set to meet Sept. 29.

Lawmakers have an Oct. 28 deadline on the session.