House speaker says petition requires governor to end COVID-19 restrictions

Attorney General, on behalf of House Speaker, files response to governor’s lawsuit

Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder holds a floor debate in the House of Representatives chambers during the 2020 special session. (Wes Muller/LA Illuminator, Sept. 30, 2020).

Attorney General Jeff Landry on Thursday filed a motion in an East Baton Rouge Court Thursday arguing that once Louisiana House members affixed enough signatures on a petition ending Gov. John Bel Edwards’  public health emergency and delivered it to him, the governor was mandated by law to declare the emergency over. 

That petition was delivered to the governor Friday, Oct. 23, but the governor has refused to honor it. Instead, Edwards went to court Monday and filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare unconstitutional the part of the law allowing a petition from one chamber of the Louisiana Legislature to end a public health emergency.

Landry’s Thursday filing was the House’s response to the governor’s lawsuit. Landry filed on behalf of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and other representatives who signed the petition. He said the governor is ignoring the checks and balances of Louisiana’s government by rejecting the petition. 

“The Governor not only rejected attempts by one of his co-equal branches of government to provide input and oversight, but he also ignored the checks and balances that underpin our government,” Landry said in a press release. “He then filed a lawsuit in an attempt to gain extraordinary powers unfounded in law.” 

The governor argues in his lawsuit that the law that spells out a petition process is unconstitutional because it allows a single chamber of the legislature to overrule a decision made by the governor. The petition cites a provision of the Health Emergencies Act that states that “The Legislature, by petition signed by a majority of the surviving members of either house, may terminate a state of disaster or emergency at any time…Thereupon, the governor shall issue an executive order or proclamation ending the state of disaster or emergency.”

Edwards says in his lawsuit:  “The Louisiana Constitution vests legislative power with the Legislature, which is composed of both the Senate and House of Representatives. Further, the Constitution does not authorize a single house of the Legislature to enact legislation, by “petition,” without a majority vote of the Senate, and without presentment to the Governor for his approval or veto.”

The Louisiana Senate has not attempted to end the governor’s emergency powers authority.

On the last day of the legislature’s second special session, which was called because Republican lawmakers wanted to check Edwards’ authority, 65 of the 68 Republicans in the House signed the petition ordering  governor to lift all the restrictions he’s imposed such as the face mask mandate, capacity limits for bars and restaurants and other limits on in-person gatherings. Their goal, according to the petition, is to relieve businesses of the economic burden caused by the restrictions.

After Schexnayder delivered the petition to the governor’s office, Landry, also a Republican, proclaimed the emergency immediately terminated. But Edwards, a Democrat, continues to say that the restrictions remain “in full force and effect.”

The petition is crafted to last for seven days. After that, the governor could put all the restrictions back in place.

The case has been assigned to Judge William Morvant, but so far no hearings have been scheduled. Reached by phone Friday, the judge’s office said a hearing for the case has not yet been set.

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.