Baton Rouge, Louisiana — Republican lawmakers trying to unravel Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ statewide stay-at-home order take their first strike Wednesday, in a hearing offering clues about whether GOP anger over the coronavirus response could lead to curbs on the governor’s power.
Edwards’ decision to extend his stay-at-home order two weeks, through May 15, provoked strong criticism from Republicans who prefer a parish-by-parish approach to loosening restrictions that have shuttered businesses and driven up unemployment.
The governor is “just being stubborn. This is the time for him to really listen to the voices of the people back home. We’ve got to take the responsible approach to protecting lives and livelihoods,” House GOP leader Blake Miguez said Tuesday.
Edwards said he hopes to lessen the restrictions and enter the first phase of the White House’s reopening guidelines on May 16. The governor said he will announce his plan early next week.
But some Republicans aren’t waiting to learn Edwards’ decision.
Miguez, of Erath, is proposing legislation to undermine the stay-at-home order. His proposal is scheduled for consideration Wednesday in the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is packed with Republican lawmakers.
The vote is only the first step for an effort that would have to win support in the House and Senate, but it could be a key sign of how the proposal — or a more far-reaching idea by Rep. Alan Seabaugh — will fare.
Seabaugh, a Shreveport Republican, is proposing to use an extraordinary legal maneuver — a simple petition requiring support from a majority of the House or Senate — that would allow Republicans to override the governor’s disaster orders entirely.
But Seabaugh’s proposal has run into concerns that it could put in jeopardy hundreds of millions in federal aid, including business aid and reimbursement for state virus-related response spending for protective equipment, a temporary hospital and more.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, both Republicans, don’t support the petition approach because of the federal aid risk. Edwards called it “completely irresponsible and nonsensical” in one of the nation’s early hot spots for the coronavirus.
Miguez said his legislation would eliminate the concern over federal funding.
As written, the measure would ban the governor from declaring an emergency or disaster for 15 days from passage — which could include when Edwards’ stay-at-home order expires, keeping him from extending it further. Miguez said he intends to rewrite the legislation to suspend the governor’s enforcement powers instead, so Edwards couldn’t penalize businesses that don’t follow the stay-at-home order.
Casey Tingle, deputy director of the governor’s homeland security office, said the agency is concerned about anything that could limit the governor’s power to respond to the virus or any other disaster that might strike the state.
Any effort “that would create confusion or lack of clarity around those roles and responsibilities is not what we need to do in a time like this,” Tingle said.
More than 2,000 people in Louisiana have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, according to health department data. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For others, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.
Edwards said he extended the stay-at-home order through May 15 in consultation with infectious disease specialists and public health experts. He said some regions of Louisiana continued to show increased hospitalizations and troubling increases in virus cases. And the governor notes that President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised his response to the pandemic.
Republicans said Edwards cherrypicked regional data to make a statewide decision even as he resists making regional reopening decisions.