Will Legislative Session Fail To End Shutdown, Masking?

As a special session of the Louisiana Legislature nears adjournment, it appears less and less likely that anything will be done to end Gov. John Bel Edwards’ shutdown of the Louisiana economy and his mask order.

Neither Speaker Clay Schexnayder nor Senate President Page Cortez has been willing to take on the governor and pass legislation which would end the emergency order, which has destroyed many thousands of businesses in the state.

The governor’s mask order also remains in place, despite an Attorney General’s Opinion declaring the order unconstitutional and illegal.  All efforts to lift the emergency were killed.

The ball is now in the court of Speaker Clay Schexnayder who told House Republicans before the session that they would see the emergency orders lifted. The Speaker owes his position to the support of the governor, and it is unclear what he might do at this point. However, some legislators report the Speaker is now preparing a petition of this own to lift 

the emergency order. The Speaker was elected to his position earlier this year with the support of 35 Democrats and 23 Republicans in the House and the governor.  Most Republicans supported Rep. Sherman Mack for Speaker.  

Presumably, Schexnayder could get the support of a united Republican caucus if he offers a petition to lift the emergency orders.

Under state law, a petition signed by a majority of the surviving members of either house of the Louisiana Legislature can end an emergency order issued by the governor.  Earlier this year, Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Bossier Parish offered such a petition, but it has so far failed to garner the required 53 signatures from House members.

One bright spot of the special session was the passage of HB 4 by Rep. Mark Wright. The original bill would have required a vote by a majority of the members of both houses in order to continue any emergency order of the governor.

However, it was amended in the Senate to require the vote of a majority of the members of the both houses in order to end an emergency order. This was the opposite of what most House Republicans wanted.  However, the advantage was that it requires a recorded vote, so that members at least have to go on the record on whether they want an emergency order to continue.

The bill did not touch the provisions of current law that allow a petition by a majority of the surviving members of either house to end an emergency.  Rather, the bill would simply provide an additional means for ending an emergency order.

HB 4 passed the House by 63-27.  It was amended in the Senate and passed there by 23-13.  With the amendments, it returned to the House for concurrence.  The bill was handled by House Republican leader Rep. Blake Miquez. It passed 54-30.

Miquez cited a provision of the bill that he said would improve present law. It would allow the legislature to target and terminate one or more particular provisions of an emergency order without terminating the entire order. For example, it would allow the legislature to vote on lifting the mask mandate while keeping the rest of the order.

Now the bill is on the Governor’s desk, and it’s fate is unknown. Even if he signs the bill, it appears unlikely that a majority of both houses would vote to end the current orders, since they have failed to gather the required signatures in even one house.

Some House members say the only way out is the petition to end the emergency order that Speaker Clay Schexnayder is working on. Not coincidentally, Schexnayder is now subject to a recall petition in his own district, and some members say the Speaker has to make something happen before the end of the session or face the consequences back home.

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