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Louisiana Legislature Adjourns Indefinitely As Concern Over Coronavirus Outbreak Grows

Wallis Watkins

The Louisiana Legislature met briefly on the last day bills could be introduced for the 2020 Regular Session.

Lawmakers did not set a date for their return, opting instead to “adjourn upon the call of the presiding officer.” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez will decide when the session will resume.

Previously, legislative leaders had targeted April 12 and April 30 as return dates. Gov. John Bel Edwards said Monday that he is likely to extend his statewide stay-at-home order until April 30 to coincide with guidelines recently announced by the federal government.

In the meantime, official legislative proceedings will be halted. Cortez said the legislature is prohibited by “statutory, constitutional and rule requirements, from meeting remotely.”

“No one ever contemplated this pandemic or our ability to do that,” he added.

Other state entities’ rules are less restrictive. The State Bond Commission met via teleconference Tuesday morning.

Behind the scenes, members of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees will meet with staffers from the Legislative Fiscal Office and the Division of Administration to calculate the economic impact of the public health crisis.

The size of the state budget will be based on the official economic forecast eventually adopted by the state’s Revenue Estimating Conference. The four-person panel was scheduled to meet April 8, but it is unclear if state economists will have enough time to calculate how plunging oil prices, economic uncertainty and the unprecedented $2.2 trillion federal stimulus will affect state coffers.

Only 58 House members and 21 state senators attended. Three lawmakers from the New Orleans area were present.

Lawmakers practiced social distancing, spreading out across the House and Senate chambers. Many wore masks or gloves.

Rep. Ted James of Baton Rouge, announced Monday night that he tested positive for the coronavirus last week and had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and pneumonia.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.