Louisiana House votes to stop fire marshal from enforcing COVID-19 restrictions

The fire marshal’s office hasn’t shut any businesses during pandemic

Louisiana Capitol Building
The Louisiana Legislature ended its regular session Thursday. (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue)

The Louisiana House passed a resolution that suspends the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s authority to enforce COVID-19 restrictions on businesses – including bars and restaurants. It’s the latest attempt by the Republican-controlled Louisiana Legislature to take the state’s response to the ongoing pandemic away from Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat.

“Citizens should not be liable for violations of orders because enforcement was arbitrary and not uniform,” Blake Miguez, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, said. “Arguably, the governor exceeded his limited authority under the emergency act by deploying the fire marshal, the Louisiana Department of Health and ATC to threaten to close businesses.”

The resolution passed 62-33. If it gets a simple majority in the Senate, it passes. The governor cannot veto it.

In an Oct. 5 meeting of the House Commerce Committee, Miguez cited Attorney General Jeff Landry’s official opinion that the governor’s order “does not pass the constitutional test” and “cannot be enforced with criminal or financial sanctions.” Two federal courts in Louisiana — one in New Orleans and another in Lafayette — rejected those arguments from bar owners when they sued Edwards this summer. Those bar owners quoted Landry extensively in their attempt to get the two judges to invalidate Edwards’ order shutting down bars, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans ruled that the Constitution didn’t prohibit Edwards’ orders and that Landry’s opinion “lacks the force of law and binds neither the Court nor the Governor.”

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, pointed out that the fire marshal hasn’t shut down any businesses for violation of COVID-19 restrictions, and said this resolution casts the fire marshal’s office in a bad light as a bad actor when, she said, the office has been supportive of businesses.