The Louisiana Legislature on Tuesday night narrowly gave final approval to legislation giving state lawmakers new ways to end key parts of Gov. John Bel Edwards' restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The House approved the measure on a near party-line vote 54-30, one more than the minimum votes needed. Earlier in the day the Senate endorsed it 23-13, also along party lines. House Bill 4 now goes to the governor.
Giving lawmakers a bigger say in emergency proclamations during the pandemic is a major topic during the special session, which has to end on Oct. 27 by 6 p.m. and was called by Republican leaders.
"We wanted the Legislature to have a seat at the table," said House GOP leader Blake Miguez of Erath, who handled the bill on the House floor. "And we wanted the people to have a voice in this process. That is what this bill does."
Whether HB4 can avoid a veto is unclear.
Democratic Gov. Edwards repeatedly has voiced skepticism about legislative efforts to curb his powers, and has said he has no intention of surrendering that authority.
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The governor has also said his restrictions on businesses, restaurants and other activities are aimed at striking a balance between controlling the pandemic and allowing personal freedoms.
All 54 "yes" votes were cast by Republicans, who control the House.
The lone "no" votes cast by GOP House members came from Reps. Barry Ivey, of Central, and Joseph Stagni, of Kenner.
The bill also drew only Republican support in the Senate.,
The lone "no" votes by Republicans were cast by Sens. Ronnie Johns, of Lake Charles, and Louis Bernard, of Natchitoches.
The new rules would come into play after a governor's public health proclamation has been in effect for 30 days and is subject to renewal.
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At that point, House and Senate leaders could initiate a vote of both chambers and, by majority vote, legislators could conclude that the governor had exceeded his authority and that parts of the order should be nullified.
Miguez said the legislation would also preserve the ability of either chamber, by majority vote, to end the entire public health emergency, which is current law.
Some House members disputed that point.
Ivey criticized the proposal.
The Republican Ivey told the House that the special session is a chance for lawmakers to clarify how public health emergency rules work, but HB4 fails to do that.
"We can do better than this, our constituents deserve better than this," Ivey said. "Let's take the time and get it right."
Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, disagreed.
Mack said that, while more time to review the measure would be nice, "that is not the boat we are in."
He said the legislation is better than a similar proposal – Senate Bill 29 – sponsored by Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, that earlier appeared to be the most likely vehicle to address public health emergencies. Though approved in both chambers, negotiations over sterner changes made in the Louisiana House had stalled a final vote.
"It is a step in the right direction," Mack said.
HB4 is sponsored by Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington.
Miguez handled it on the House floor because Wright was away.
The House had earlier approved a different version of the legislation.
The vote Tuesday was to go along with changes made to the bill in the Senate moments before HB4 returned to the House. House and Senate leaders were intent on getting a final vote on the legislation before leaving for the evening.
Miguez has been one of the most outspoken advocates of efforts to curb Edwards' powers over the pandemic.
"It has been seven months since this emergency declaration has been going on," he said in closing comments moments before the vote.
Miguez said a key advantage of the bill is that it would allow lawmakers to strike specific sections of an emergency order, such as the requirement that face masks be worn in public, rather than the entire order.
"We have more options, we have more latitude," he said.
Mark Ballard contributed to this report.
How they voted in Louisiana House
Voting to give the Legislature the ability to end a governor’s health-related emergency (54): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps Amedee, Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Butler, Carrier, Coussan, Davis, DeVillier, DuBuisson, Echols, Edmonds, Edmonston, Farnum, Firment, Freiberg, Frieman, Gadberry, Garofalo, Henry, Hodges, Horton, Huval, Illg, M. Johnson, Kerner, Mack, Magee, McCormick, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, Miguez, G. Miller, Mincey, Muscarello, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, R. Owen, Pressly, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, St. Blanc, Stefanski, Tarver, Thomas, Turner, Villio, Wheat and Zeringue.
Voting against HB4 (30): Reps Adams, Brown, Bryant, Carpenter, G. Carter, Cormier, Cox, Duplessis, Freeman, Gaines, Green, Hughes, Ivey, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, T. Johnson, Jones, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Moore, Newell, Phelps, Pierre, Selders, Stagni, Thompson, White and Willard.
Not Voting (21): Reps Bourriaque, Brass, Carter, R., Carter, W., Crews, Deshotel, Dwight, Emerson, Fontenot, Glover, Goudeau, Harris, Hilferty, Hollis, Jordan, LaCombe, Marcelle, Marino, Miller, D., Seabaugh and Wright.
How they voted in state Senate
Voting to give the Legislature the ability to end a governor’s health-related emergency (23): President Cortez and Sens Abraham, Cathey, Cloud, Connick, Fesi, Henry, Hensgens, Hewitt, Lambert, McMath, Milligan, F. Mills, R. Mills, Mizell, Morris, Peacock, Pope, Reese, Talbot, Ward, White and Womack.
Voting against HB4 (13): Sens Barrow, Bernard, Boudreaux, Bouie, Carter, Fields, Harris, Jackson, Johns, Luneau, Price, Smith and Tarver.
Not Voting (3): Sens Allain, Foil and Peterson.