Gov. Edwards suing legislature to defend coronavirus rules

Updated: Oct. 26, 2020 at 9:09 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards is suing the Louisiana House of Representatives to defend the coronavirus rules they’re attempting to throw out. A judge will ultimately decide whether Louisianans have to continue following the mitigation measures Gov. Edwards implemented through an executive order.

On the final day of the fall special session, lawmakers sent a petition to Gov. Edwards instructing him to sign a new executive order that lifts all COVID-19 restrictions for a week. The law that allows the legislature to do this also says the governor has to comply.

But Gov. Edwards argues the law is unconstitutional, primarily because it allows one chamber of the legislature to act on the entire legislature’s behalf. He is ignoring the petition.

“You cannot violate a law that is unconstitutional, by definition," Gov. Edwards said Monday, Oct. 26. "Secondly, there are other statutes that tell me I cannot end the public health emergency until I believe the threat to public health is behind us. No rational person believes that.”

The law also requires the legislature to consult with the public health authority before it moves to end a public health emergency. It’s not clear if the public health authority has to sign off on the idea for lawmakers to move forward.

Baton Rouge District Judge William Morvant will decide the issue.

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Some legislators who signed the petition say they’re not sure it’s constitutional either.

“Edwards is saying, basically, the statute is unconstitutional and I think that remains to be seen because we’ve never really seen anything like it," Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking member, said. "As far as I can tell, there’s no court or case law on this issue. It’s an open question.”

Magee, a Houma Republican, signed the petition when it became clear Gov. Edwards would veto any attempt to restructure his emergency powers. Magee says for now, it’s safest for business owners to continue operating under the governor’s rules until a judge decides where the law stands.

“There is still an executive order in place that hasn’t been terminated. If I was a business owner, I would wait toward some sort of courtroom resolution giving more instruction,” Magee said. “Otherwise, you’re just working on an assumption that it’s going to be correct.”

Other lawmakers and the state’s attorney general have encouraged businesses to proceed as if there are no rules in place. Gov. Edwards says the state will continue to enforce the rules as it always has.

“No business owner or any other individual should rely on such an irresponsible representation from a member of the legislature, or from the AG either," Gov. Edwards said.

The governor issued the following statement about his lawsuit contesting the petition:

“In addition to the fact that getting rid of the mitigation measures that have proven to slow the spread of COVID and save lives is reckless and dangerous, the law being used is blatantly unconstitutional. Louisiana’s constitution doesn’t allow only one chamber of the legislature to overturn a public health emergency, and, even if it did, the petitioners did not properly consult the public health experts from the Louisiana Department of Health,” Gov. Edwards said. “Multiple people, including the author of the legislature’s petition and many of its signers, have acknowledged the law’s unconstitutionality in both public and private conversations. It’s frankly sad and counterproductive to have to take this legal action as we are also responding not only to a pandemic, but also recovering from two serious hurricanes and preparing for the possibility of another. I am incredibly disappointed that at a time when Louisianans need to be coming together to protect each other from this virus, some legislators and the attorney general are instead playing politics with people’s lives. Louisiana remains in Phase 3, our successful mitigation measures remain in place, and I will continue to work with public health officials and experts to make decisions based on sound science and data.”

Read the full lawsuit below.

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