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Edwards Sues GOP Over Petition To Lift Coronavirus Restrictions

Paul Braun
Gov. John Bel Edwards. October 23, 2020.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is asking a Louisiana judge to weigh in on Republican state lawmakers’ latest effort to strip his public health emergency declaration and all the coronavirus restrictions that go with it.

Late last week, 65 state representatives availed them themselves of a never-before-used process that’s outlined in an obscure statute of Louisiana law. They signed a petition to force Gov. Edwards to issue a proclamation immediately ending his public health emergency and lifting all of his coronavirus restrictions.

But Edwards refused to do so, saying that the petition is not just a bad idea, it’s also unconstitutional.

“Louisiana’s Constitution doesn’t allow only one chamber of the Legislature to overturn a public health emergency, and, even if it did, the petitioners did not properly consult the public health experts from the Louisiana Department of Health,” Edwards said. “It’s frankly sad and counterproductive to have to take this legal action as we are also responding not only to a pandemic but also recovering from two serious hurricanes and preparing for the possibility of another.”

In a lawsuit filed Monday afternoon, administration attorneys said the proclamations the governor issues during times of emergency have the full force and effect of law. So, if the legislature wants to overrule those proclamations, they need the same two-thirds majority of each chamber that’s required to override a gubernatorial veto.

Furthermore, the law they relied on requires lawmakers to consult the state department of health before attempting to lift the emergency orders. The petitioners didn’t do that, Edwards said.

The administration is asking Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge to declare the law unconstitutional and render the petition null and void.

A hearing date has not been set.

Republican legislators, many of whom ultimately signed the petition, questioned the constitutionality of the effort during the one-month special legislative session that ended Friday.

The GOP introduced dozens of measures that would have given them clear-cut authority to remove some or all of Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions, but only one bill won final passage. HB4 by Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington) would have given the legislature the ability to reject public health emergency orders in their entirety or line-item veto specific mitigation measures.

Edwards said Monday that he plans to veto the bill.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.