The Louisiana House on Monday approved a resolution that would suspend the ability of the state Fire Marshal to enforce Gov. John Bel Edwards' anti-coronavirus rules.
The proposal, House Concurrent Resolution 13, cleared the House 62-33.
"The governor does not have the power to delegate his emergency powers that we gave him to the Fire Marshal," said House GOP leader Blake Miguez of Erath, sponsor of the resolution.
The suspension would last for 60 days after the completion of the special session, which can last until 6 p.m. on Oct. 27.
Miguez, under questioning by state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, conceded that the state Fire Marshal has not closed any businesses. "But he has threatened permits in conjunction with other state agencies," Miguez replied.
He said fire marshal officials have visited about 700 businesses checking for violations and set up a three-strike system where, after three violations, business owners face criminal misdemeanor charges.
As negotiations over how much power the Louisiana Legislature wants over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ coronavirus restrictions were set to begin in …
"It is time to open the entrepreneurial spirit of Louisiana," Miguez said. "This is just one of the many instruments."
"I feel like HCR13 is casting them in a light that they are a nefarious actor," she said of officials in the state Fire Marshal's office.
The state Fire Marshal has largely taken a hands-off approach in carrying out the governor's rules aimed at stemming the number of coronavirus cases.
The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control or the Louisiana Department of Health are agencies that issue penalties, which can range from the suspension of alcohol licenses to orders to close.
Miguez said similar resolutions would target those two offices.
"They are all working together," he said.
Miguez is one of the governor's chief critics over steps aimed at stemming the virus.
While the special session also includes measures aimed at relief from Hurricane Laura and shoring up Louisiana's depleted unemployment fund, legislative steps to curb Edwards' authority, especially among House members, has consumed considerable time.
Earlier this month the House, with little debate, approved eight bills and resolutions aimed at curbing the governor's emergency authority during the pandemic.
The Republican-led Louisiana House on Friday easily approved eight proposals that would restrict or suspend Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' …
Critics contend some of the governor's restrictions on businesses, restaurants and daily activities have gone too far, and been in place too long.
Edwards has repeatedly said his orders are aimed at striking a balance between combating the virus and the need for businesses to operate.
He has also questioned the merits of the pandemic-related bills winding through the Legislature, saying it is impractical to respond to a public health emergency by committee.
The governor said last month he has no intentions of surrendering his authority to act during a public health emergency.
Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogalusa, said she is a small business owner and her operation never closed.
She asked Miguez whether, in his view, any mitigation measures enacted since March were needed.
Miguez said his constituents understood the need for action early on in the pandemic.
"But we blink our eyes and it is seven months later," he said.
"This has been going on seven months guys," Miguez said. "One person has been making this determination."
"Now is the time to take action. Now is the time for each one of you to get a seat at the table."
Edwards announced last week that Louisiana would remain in Phase 3 for the reopening of its economy until at least early November.
That allows many businesses and restaurants to operate at 75% capacity, and the governor's statewide mandate that citizens wear masks while in public remains in effect.
He said state orders have generally been endorsed by the White House.
House and Senate leaders are having private talks with Edwards in hopes of reaching agreement on a plan that would allow more input from lawmakers.
Miguez indicated those talks have yielded little so far.
Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, backed the resolution.
"Do you think fear has taken control of our business owners?" she asked Miguez.
Said Miguez, "The last thing they need is for the Fire Marshal to come in and say you can do this, you can't do this."
Miguez also said state Fire Marshal Butch Browning has worked in good faith.
"In this situation he has been put in a tough situation," he said.