BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Despite a recent spike in Louisiana’s coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, a group of conservative House Republicans on Thursday restarted a stalled effort to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ disaster orders enacted because of COVID-19.
The Republicans said the Democratic governor’s decision to continue restrictions on businesses and churches for another 28 days spurred renewed interest in an extraordinary legal maneuver that would remove Louisiana’s state of emergency and reopen everything without restrictions.
Rep. Danny McCormick, a Republican from Oil City, urged his colleagues to support the petition circulated by Shreveport GOP Rep. Alan Seabaugh. The measure requires support from a majority of the House or Senate to revoke the state of emergency.
McCormick said Edwards has “shredded” the constitution.
“Somewhere along the line the common sense approach has turned into a complete and utter loss of freedom, freedom to work and freedom to provide for our families,” McCormick said on the House floor. “In the name of health, we’re destroying our state. What we must ask ourselves is when will enough be enough?”
About two dozen lawmakers stood Thursday on the Louisiana Capitol steps to support the petition, about half the 53 signatures needed to revoke the emergency order. Supporters didn’t release a list of those signed so far.
Noticeably absent was Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, who didn’t support a prior petition effort because of concerns it could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal virus-related aid for Louisiana.
Edwards on Thursday officially extended the limitations on churches, restaurants, bars, retailers and other businesses until July 24, and he added a new 250-person limit on indoor gatherings, as Louisiana is seeing a recent surge in the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus.
Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said she wants businesses to reopen further. But she added: “Do we want people to die at the hands of COVID? Do we want to risk people’s lives?”
More than 53,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Louisiana residents since mid-March, and 3,051 people have died. In recent days, hundreds of new cases have been reported daily, and hospitalizations have continued to grow.
Edwards’ regulations require churches, restaurants, coffee shops, bars with a food permit, gyms, hair and nail salons and other businesses to stay limited to 50% capacity. Bars that don’t have a food permit remain limited to 25% occupancy, and other types of businesses have additional restrictions. Employees interacting with the public must wear masks.
Seabaugh, who said he has a family member hospitalized with COVID-19, noted Louisiana is nowhere near its height of cases in early April. At that point, public health officials and the governor worried the New Orleans region could run out of hospital beds and ventilators.
House Republican leader Blake Miguez, from the Acadiana region seeing some of the largest rises in COVID-19 infections, said lawmakers have had difficulty getting data from the state health department to understand the governor’s decision-making.
“It’s overwhelming in my area that they don’t agree with the decision. They’re tired of government telling them what to do,” Miguez said. “They’re fearful that their kids are going to have to wear a mask when they go back to school. They’re tired of being told that they have to wear a mask or that they can only operate their business at 50% capacity.”
Rep. Tammy Phelps, a Shreveport Democrat, said lawmakers pushing the petition are falsely describing the restrictions.
“Everyone has a right to do whatever they would like to do. Let’s stop giving misleading information that Louisiana is not reopened,” she said.
Edwards has called on people to wear masks, remain vigilant in handwashing and stay distant from others who aren’t in the same household — saying that’s the only way to keep the virus from overwhelming hospitals and to safely reopen businesses further. Many lawmakers, including Republicans pushing the petition, don’t wear masks at the Capitol or stay distanced.
Miguez said he’s comfortable that revocation of the state’s emergency order wouldn’t threaten the loss of federal aid related to COVID-19, based on comments made by GOP U.S. Rep. Garret Graves. But there are differing opinions among government leaders about the risk.
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