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State Attorney General Jeff Landry, speaks as he and other local, state, and medical officials hold a press conference to announce the first two confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Lafayette Parish Wednesday, March 18 at city hall in Lafayette.

A Baton Rouge judge has denied a request by Attorney General Jeff Landry to block Gov. John Bel Edwards from issuing new coronavirus restrictions until he complies with a petition filed by House Republicans to cancel all virus rules, as both sides await a Nov. 12 hearing date over the issue.

Nineteenth Judicial District Judge William Morvant, of  Baton Rouge, on Wednesday rejected Landry’s request for a temporary restraining order. That clears the way for Edwards to issue a new public health emergency by Friday, when the current virus restrictions are slated to expire. The governor is expected to announce the new order Thursday at an afternoon press conference.

Landry, a Republican frequently at odds with the Democratic governor, is representing House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, in the case. The governor filed suit after 65 of 68 House Republicans sent him a petition under an obscure state law that allows a majority of either chamber of the Legislature to end a public health emergency.

Edwards refused to cancel his order and end all restrictions for a week. Instead, the governor asked Morvant to declare the law unconstitutional, and the petition null and void. Landry, on behalf of Schexnayder, filed his own legal action to compel the governor to comply with the petition. Both are slated to be heard next Thursday, according to documents filed with Morvant’s court this week.

In asking for the temporary restraining order blocking the governor from issuing new virus restrictions, Landry’s office argued the governor has “flagrantly disregarded the law requiring him to issue a proclamation ending the public health emergency” since the petition was delivered to him on Oct. 23.

“Without a temporary restraining order the businesses and citizens of Louisiana continue to be in a state of confusion as to whether they can open, whether masks are required, and whether other currently prohibited activities can be resumed,” Landry’s office wrote in the court filing.

Landry wrote on Twitter that the ruling was "disappointing, but expected." He told people to log onto the Zoom hearing. 

"This is a simple case that will tell us whether our Legislature even matters anymore," he wrote. 

The law at issue, a statute passed in 2003 during the SARS pandemic and never before used, says the Legislature, “in consultation with the public health authority,” can terminate a state of public health emergency at any time by a petition signed by a majority of either the House or Senate.

But the law also says “thereupon, the governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of public health or emergency.”

Landry has argued publicly the governor’s orders were canceled when he received the petition. The governor has said the state’s Phase 3 rules, including a mask mandate, are still in place. Little has practically changed about the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

Edwards has called the petition “reckless,” “dangerous” and unconstitutional, because only one chamber of the Legislature is acting. Typically, state laws require both chambers’ approval before going to the governor. His lawyers are also arguing the Republicans failed to “consult” with the public health authority, because the Louisiana Department of Health strongly urged them not to move forward with the petition when the two sides met.

In new court filings made Wednesday, the governor’s attorneys also argue that the Republican lawmakers violated the state Constitution by “taking action on a matter intended to have the force and effect of law outside an open, public meeting.”

Schexnayder, a Republican who won the speaker’s gavel in large part because Edwards rallied Democrats to his side in a competitive race, said the governor “left us no choice” during a recent special legislative session because he refused to loosen the coronavirus rules. Lawmakers have said concerns that rules on high school football are too restrictive drove much of the action on curbing his emergency powers.

The governor vetoed the key bill passed by Republican lawmakers to take some of his emergency powers away in the session. Anticipating that veto, Republican lawmakers signed the petition on the last day of the session in late October.

The White House has continued to support Edwards’ virus restrictions, writing in a report sent to the administration this week that Louisiana should “continue aggressive mitigation measures in the parishes with rising cases and hospitalizations.”

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com