Louisiana senators begin debate on emergency power oversight
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana senators Tuesday started advancing a proposal to give themselves some sway over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision-making in the coronavirus pandemic, as criticism from Republicans mounts that the Democratic governor has failed to communicate with them.
The bill by Senate President Page Cortez would create a regulatory framework for legislative oversight when a Louisiana governor extends an emergency order or suspends laws for more than 30 days because of a hurricane, pandemic or other disaster. But the proposal wouldn’t give lawmakers new avenues to stall those emergency decisions from taking effect.
“I don’t think it’s our job to tell the governor what to do, nor is it his job to tell us what to do. But there are certain checks and balances that should be in place,” said Cortez, a Lafayette Republican who noted he once taught high school civics.
The measure would create a 10-member committee of legislative leaders to review emergency declarations that extend beyond 30 days. A week before any extension, the governor would have to notify the committee and the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court of what’s being extended, the length of the extension and other details. The committee could hold hearings and seek witness testimony — but couldn’t reject the emergency orders.
“We want to urge. We want to have a seat at the table. But I don’t want to dictate,” Cortez said.
Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said he’ll propose similar legislation in the special session that began Monday. But the approach falls far short of what’s sought by some conservative Republicans, particularly in the House: to be able to revoke Edwards’ restrictions during the pandemic.
Cortez’s proposal won backing from a Senate judiciary committee Tuesday without objection, and was sent to the full Senate for debate. A House committee Wednesday will take up a more aggressive set of oversight proposals that would give lawmakers greater authority to stop emergency orders they don’t support.
GOP lawmakers say Edwards has sidelined them from policy decisions for nearly seven months in his response to the pandemic. They say they’ve heard from constituents angered by the regulations and have been unable to explain the governor’s choices or offer much information.
Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat, said Cortez’s bill would help lawmakers to “work together as one with the governor.”
Louisiana law currently allows a majority of lawmakers in either the House or the Senate to sign a petition to overturn a governor’s emergency order.
Several such petitions to revoke Edwards’ public health emergency for the coronavirus are circulating in the House, but they’ve been unable to gain 53 signatures because of uncertainty about the impact on federal aid and other possible ramifications.
Cortez’s bill would make that process harder, requiring a majority of both the House and the Senate to terminate an emergency order.
Some senators have bristled at the idea that the House alone could revoke Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions, and Cortez said Tuesday he’s not sure allowing one legislative chamber to make such a decision would withstand court scrutiny.