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Edwards Vetoes Bill To Give Legislature More Control Over Louisiana's Coronavirus Restrictions

Paul Braun
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards adjusts his mask after his a coronavirus media briefing. October 22, 2020.

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have expanded the legislature’s power to shape the state’s coronavirus response by stripping individual coronavirus restrictions put in place by the governor.

The veto killed the only meaningful limit on Edwards’ emergency authority that state lawmakers were able to pass during the nearly one-month special session that abruptly ended last week. Republican legislative leaders convened the session late last month and said their top priority was addressing what they consider to be an “imbalance of power” exposed by the governor’s response to the coronavirus.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mark Wright (R-Covington) and hastily passed in the final week of the session, would have given state lawmakers the power to nullify individual coronavirus mitigation measures included in Edwards’ executive orders without meeting in-person.

It also detailed the process by which state lawmakers would send and receive their ballots and allowed legislative staff to use “most efficient medium available,” which “may include but is not limited to electronic mail or SMS communications.”

“I have said repeatedly that an emergency cannot be managed by committee, and that is exactly what this bill would allow,” Edwards wrote to House Speaker Clay Schexnayder in his veto letter. “Even worse, instead of requiring members to be present at the Capitol and fully informed to make decisions, this bill allows for legislators to cast votes on life or death decisions from their homes via text message.”

Edwards said his coronavirus restrictions have helped the state keep new cases, hospitalizations and deaths lower than in neighboring states that reopened faster and are now experiencing a third wave of infections.

Republican state lawmakers could call for an unprecedented veto session, but the measure failed to pass either chamber with the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor.

The GOP is two seats shy of controlling a veto-proof majority in the House of Representatives. And while the party is above that threshold in the Senate, two Republican state senators opposed the final version of the bill last week.

Democratic and Independent state lawmakers are unified in their opposition to the measure.

State lawmakers' hopes of limiting Edwards’ authority and empowering themselves to shape the state’s coronavirus restrictions now rest entirely on the petition that 65 Republican House members signed last week. In theory, a simple majority of members in either chamber of the legislature could sign and deliver a petition that forces Edwards to issue a proclamation ending the current public health emergency and lifting all of the state’s coronavirus restrictions for a period of seven days.

But when House Speaker Clay Schexnayder delivered such a petition on Friday, Edwards refused to end the state of emergency.

The governor filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the effort in court. Administration attorneys have asked Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge to nullify the petition and declare the obscure 2003 law that outlines the petition process to be unconstitutional.

Edwards also vetoed a bill sponsored by House Republican Delegation Leader Blake Miguez that would prohibit local registrars of voters from using private grant money to offset the cost of ancillary services on election day. Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry supported the legislation. Earlier this month, Landry sought to block millions of dollars of grants a Mark Zuckerberg-backed foundation offered to several parishes’ election officials.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.