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Edwards lawsuit challenges petition to halt public health emergency

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – A suit filed Monday in 19th Judicial District Court on behalf of Gov. John Bel Edwards challenges the petition by House Republicans to force an end to the public health emergency proclamations for COVID-19.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has filed a lawsuit challenging the petition by House Republicans to force an end to the public health emergency proclamations for COVID-19.

The suit – listed as “Gov. John Bel Edwards versus Louisiana State Legislature, Louisiana House of Representatives and (Speaker of the House) Clay Schexnayder” – seeks asks the court to declare unconstitutional the House’s attempt to end the emergency because the Legislature did not consult the public health authority, the Louisiana Department of Health.

“It’s reckless, dangerous, irresponsible and I’ll also say it’s unconstitutional,” he said Monday. “Louisiana constitution does not allow for one chamber of the legislature to overturn a public health emergency issued by a governor.”

Sixty-five of the 73 House Republicans signed on to the petition, which challenged toe governor’s authority to issue restrictions on Louisiana residents and businesses.

“At no time since the start of the pandemic has the governor taken meaningful steps to address legislative concerns in any substantive way,” according to the release. “The Legislature will make no apologies for simply standing up for the people we collectively represent. The House has exhausted every available legislative remedy and has been left with no other option but to exercise its legislative right to terminate the Governor’s emergency order.”

The release adds that the legislature has been assured by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry that its actions are lawful and constitutional.

According to the petition, the termination of Proclamation 134 JBE 2020 will have no effect on the continuation of hurricane-related emergency declarations.

The petition would terminate the emergency proclamation effective upon receipt of the petition by the governor for seven days.

Edwards, in a press conference Monday, emphasized that all mitigation measures remain in place.

The state constitution does not allow one body to legislate alone, he said.

“The House of Representatives is not the Legislature – it’s a coequal and independent branch to the governor, but not the House,” Edwards said. “It has to operate without exception at least with a two-thirds majority by each body. A simple majority by one body does not cut the mustard. “

The petition would make Louisiana the only state in the Union without a public health emergency.

He said Landry contradicted himself when the AG said the House’s action was constitutional. Edwards displayed a statement Landry made in September that said a petition alone is not enough to overturn the public health emergency declaration.

“I’ll certainly be more charitable than to say he lied to you, but Jeff Landry certainly changed his mind from September,” Edwards said. “But over the weekend, he said the petition itself, once it secured more than 53 signatures by members in the House, overrode my orders and that the proclamation was no longer in place.

“Not what the statute said, and he should’ve checked his own opinions and he’d have known better than to say what he said over the weekend.,” the governor said. “I guess he now disagrees with himself.”

The current emergency declaration remains in effect until Nov. 6.

An end to the emergency declaration amid the prediction of another wave of COVID jeopardizes the state’s ability to receive federal funding through the Stafford Act.

“That’s because the federal agency that’s managing this public emergency is FEMA, which is there for emergency and disasters,” Edwards said. “If the state of Louisiana says it has no emergency, you also put at risk federal funding, whether it’s for local governments, hospitals, nursing homes and so forth, just from requests we’ve received.”

The number of new cases has tapered, but the total of new positive tests Friday reached 83,000, the highest single-day number of new cases since the public health emergency started.

“It’s very clear that we’re seeing a second wave and third surge around the country, so there’s no reason to believe it’s not coming to Louisiana, but we remain in a relatively good place because of the mitigation measures we put into place and maintained public health emergency here in Louisiana,” Edwards said. “Everybody tired of COVID-19 and hurricane, but neither the virus or Mother Nature will take that into account. We have to be resolute and we need leaders to lead.”