Gov. John Bel Edwards filed a lawsuit in state court earlier this week defending his COVID-19 public health emergency proclamation after a group of Republican members of the state House of Representatives signed a petition challenging the proclamation.
The House petition relied on state law allowing a majority of either chamber in the Legislature to overturn a public health emergency order from the governor. The House petition directs Edwards to issue another proclamation canceling his COVID-19 public health emergency order for a period of seven days.
According to Edwards, he would not issue a new proclamation canceling anything. Louisiana would remain in Phase 3, he said.
The House petition would not affect other emergency declarations issued for recent hurricanes or affect the federal emergency declarations currently in place.
Sixty-five Republicans in the House signed the petition including state Reps. Michael Echols, R-Monroe; Foy Gadberry, R-West Monroe; Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro; Neil Riser, R-Columbia; and Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport. State Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, also has championed the House petition.
“Obviously, we are still in the midst of a public health emergency whether members of the House or the attorney general wish to acknowledge it or not,” said Edwards during a news conference on Monday. “That petition is reckless. It’s dangerous. It’s irresponsible. It’s also unconstitutional.”
As of Monday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Louisiana totaled more than 180,000 while the number of deaths resulting from the novel coronavirus were more than 5,600, according to state Department of Health statistics.
The petition to terminate the state of public health emergency noted that the governor’s restrictions led to many small businesses either in danger of going out of business or shuttering completely. According to the petition, the state’s “medical supply chain has recovered and is capable of meeting the current demands for COVID-19 related medical equipment and supplies.”
Edwards’ lawsuit asked the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge to declare a section of the law used by some members of the Louisiana House of Representatives to attempt to overrule his public health emergency order by petition unconstitutional.
Edwards also says the petition was improperly filed because the Legislature did not consult the public health authority, the state Department of Health.
“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,” Edwards said.