Just one week into the 2020 Regular Session, Louisiana lawmakers voted to adjourn until the end of the month over growing concerns about the spread of coronavirus in the state.
The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 100-1 to adjourn until March 31 amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. The Senate passed the resolution with a 35-0 vote.
Rep. Phillip Tarver (R-Lake Charles) was the only lawmaker to object. He said adjourning would send the wrong message to the people of Louisiana.
“We are a state in a nation that is embroiled in difficult times — not unusual for us,” Tarver said. “It is our duty as leaders of our state to conduct our business.”
Rep. Stuart Bishop, a Lafayette Republican and the sponsor of the house resolution, delivered a forceful rebuke urging his fellow members to heed the recommendations from the White House which discourage gatherings of 10 or more people.
“There are 105 members in here. How do we possibly abide by CDC rules of 10 people?” Bishop asked. “That makes it pretty tough to get to 53 votes to pass anything.”
“This is a step of caution for this body, for this staff and for the people of Louisiana,” he added.
Eleven legislatures around the country have adjourned their sessions early because of coronavirus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The legislature has been moving toward this decision since Thursday afternoon when Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder released a joint statement saying they had developed a plan to pass the constitutionally mandated budget bills in an abbreviated session.
At the time, the Democratic Edwards praised Schexnayder and Cortez, who are both Republicans, for working to “find a bipartisan solution.” The package of bills was supposed to be filed Monday, but the escalation of the coronavirus crisis put the session on hold.
Crafting the state budget is a months-long process that typically ends only days or even hours before the session is scheduled to end.
Cortez told lawmakers to keep working from home until regular meetings return to the capitol.
“We still have plenty of time to complete the work we came here to do,” Cortez said.
Even after the state surpassed the 100-case mark over the weekend, Cortez and Schexnayder said the session would continue.
The leadership imposed a new set of screening protocols to prevent infected individuals from entering the capitol.
People entering the building had their temperatures taken and were asked a series of questions about their health and travel history. Every other seat in committee rooms and the galleries was cordoned off with yellow caution tape in an effort to keep people a safe distance from one another.
More than two dozen advocacy groups called for the session to be suspended. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat and the chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, told the Senate President on Sunday that she would be staying home.
“I don’t need to convene for a meeting to discuss not convening,” Peterson tweeted Sunday night.
True to her word, she was one of four Senators not present for the vote Monday afternoon.