If the 68 Republican members of the Louisiana House had been playing football Friday, they would have been penalized for piling on. They sent eight bills to the Senate that would either restrict or suspend Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ orders aimed at reducing the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.
Legislators called themselves into a 70-item special session, but their main goal is to try and take control of how the state manages the pandemic. The state has had over 167,000 positive virus cases and COVID-19, the pandemic disease, claimed 5,355 state lives as of Friday.
Two other goals of the session that deserve a higher priority are finding ways to finance Hurricane Laura relief and funding the state’s nearly bankrupt unemployment fund. However, political payback aimed at the only Democratic governor in the South has consumed the session so far.
The Advocate in a Saturday editorial titled, “Lake Charles region needs our help now, and in the future,” said thousands of Southwest Louisiana residents are unable to return to their homes and others are making do under tarped roofs.
“Lake Charles is off the beaten path, so most Americans will never get to see the damage,” the newspaper said. “… But people who have been in Lake Charles and the surrounding communities understand the damage. Everyone in Louisiana, too, knows that long-term recovery is a difficult road ahead.”
Talk to Louisiana’s many unemployed workers, and they will tell you getting unemployment help has been extremely difficult. They, too, deserve a quick solution to their problems. They shouldn’t have to wait and hope for help while Republican lawmakers seek to derail Gov. Edwards’ management of the pandemic that has saved lives.
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, is trying a sensible approach to what Republicans see as a problem, but the GOP hardliners don’t think his legislation goes far enough. Every senator voted for the Cortez bill that would require the governor to give lawmakers advance notice and information about his executive orders.
“I think if you put (legislative leadership) in front of the governor, he’s going to want to talk,” Cortez said.
Rep. Dodie Horton, RHaughton, said, “I’ve been bombarded ever since this left the Senate floor that this has no teeth.”
In an effort to appease the ultra-conservatives, the House added an amendment to Cortez’ bill that would “allow each member to cast his vote for or against the renewal of the state disaster or emergency.” Lawmakers by majority votes in each chamber would be able to end executive orders or proclamations during the pandemic.
Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Moss Bluff, handled the Cortez bill in the House. He said there have been a lot of complaints about legislators not knowing what Edwards was planning to do about the pandemic. However, there wasn’t much he could do when conservatives amended the Cortez bill because they had the votes they needed.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, has a concurrent resolution that would temporarily suspend the governor’s pandemic orders. Like the other bills, it won wide 68-22 approval.
Authors of the bills aimed at overriding Edwards’ decisions say their constituents are demanding relief from having to wear facemasks and observe safe distances, being unable to attend sporting and other events and having restrictions on what bars and businesses can do.
Some last week, for example, blamed Edwards for LSU losing the Mississippi State football game because fans weren’t allowed to attend the game.
The state Senate has usually been the voice of reason in these situations, and the leader of House Republicans knows that is something with which House members have to deal.
Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, said his GOP colleagues “understand we have to work with the Senate, to get a meeting of the minds on exactly what that legislation looks like at the end of the day.”
Edwards has been calm, cool and collected during the legislative attempts to curb his powers. He said you can’t manage a pandemic by committee and he is trying to strike a balance between reducing cases of the virus with the need for personal freedom and for residents to earn a living.
Whatever happens at the session, the issue of who has authority to do what will still have to be decided. The governor appears to have the state constitution on his side, but a court may have the final word.
Meanwhile, the virus threat definitely isn’t over and Louisiana has had the highest number of cases per capita in the nation for months. Dr. Jimmy Guidry, chief state health officer, said he expects another surge of the virus during flu season and it will be as intense as the state experienced in the spring.
Republican lawmakers, who have had a difficult time accepting the fact Edwards was re-elected last year, believe they can manage the pandemic better than the governor. If they win the day, say your prayers.