Louisiana lawmakers move forward with measures to curb governor's COVID-19 restrictions
Louisiana lawmakers continued to advance a host of measures Thursday to curb Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' COVID-19 restrictions ranging from legislative oversight to overturning his emergency declaration altogether.
Republicans who have grown weary of seven months of COVID-19 restrictions want more power to decide how long an emergency declaration can continue.
"The people I represent don't think (the restrictions) are warranted," said Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton. "That's why we're here. We believe in individual freedoms. We feel it's time for a change."
Republicans comprise near super majorities in the House and Senate and largely control the agenda of a 30-day Special Session that began Monday.
Edwards has moved the state in Phase 3 of reopening the economy, but occupancy restrictions remain for most businesses and many bars remain closed and a statewide mask mandate remains in effect.
What restrictions lawmakers want to overturn
One measure approved by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee Thursday was a resolution by Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales to overturn Edwards' coronavirus orders for a month after the Special Session ends.
"It allows us to take a deep breath and see what direction we need to go in," Schexnayder said.
But other measures advanced by the committee would be less drastic, like Acadiana Republican Senate President Page Cortez's bill to require the governor to consult with legislative leaders before extending an emergency beyond 30 days, but not require their approval.
COVID-19 restrictions:Senate panel takes first step to curb Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards' restrictions
Jim Waskom, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, warned lawmakers that overturning an emergency order could disqualify the state from hundreds of millions in federal funding.
"You are introducing chaos and confusion into an already chaotic and confusing situation," said Waskom, who was appointed by Edwards.
Some lawmakers acknowledged the risk, but said they felt compelled to support a complete overturning of the emergency order.
"My gut says there is a risk ... but at the end of the day I'm being forced to make that decision," said state Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge.
How Gov. John Bel Edwards will move forward
Edwards said Thursday he's withholding judgement on the measures until they make their way through the Legislature or reach his desk, but dismissed complaints by lawmakers that he hasn't communicated with them during the pandemic.
"Everybody should know I've been fully informing the Legislature all along," said Edwards, who said he was particularly communicative with leaders Schexnayder and Cortez.
'It's an age-old thing for legislators to complain about communication when in fact it's about them not agreeing with decisions being made," Edwards said. "Quite frankly, (there's) not a reasonable discussion to be had with people who believe we shouldn't have a public emergency declaration in place ... to save lives."
Edwards insisted the responsibility to manage emergencies remains in the executive branch.
"It's not a good idea to manage an emergency by committee, and I hope that's not what the Legislature will try to do," he said.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.