Louisiana legislators want a 'seat at the table' when governor extends emergency declarations

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Louisiana legislators should have a “seat at the table” when a governor considers extending an emergency declaration, legislative leaders said Monday just before convening a 30-day special session.

State Senate President Page Cortez and House of Representatives Speaker Clay Schexnayder said they would file bills calling for a governor who wants to extend an emergency declaration beyond 30 days to consult with a legislative committee. However, the governor would not need their approval to extend the declaration. Cortez said his proposal doesn’t go that far because it might raise “constitutional issues.”

Cortez said his bill also will include a representative of the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

“There would be conversation back and forth,” Cortez said. “There would be more input by the legislature.”

Under current law, either body can end an emergency declaration with a majority vote. Cortez said his bill would require a majority of both houses to end the declaration.

Many legislators, particularly Republicans, have called for eliminating the business restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19, citing the economic damage. Efforts to overturn Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency order so far have fallen short.

“This is not about this governor,” Cortez said. “It’s about the policy of this state.”

Hurricane Laura disaster relief and recovery will be a top priority for the session, legislators say, along with the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. The fund, which held more than $1 billion before the COVID-19 pandemic, is on the verge of running out of money, which would trigger higher taxes on employers and lower benefits for workers.

Legislators earlier this year set aside $105 million in state surplus dollars that could be used to shore up the fund, Cortez noted, adding that another surplus may be recognized. Lawmakers also may consider issuing a bond to raise money.

Legislators, not Edwards, called the special session, and Edwards did not deliver a session-opening speech.

“At a time when our state is dealing with the COVID-19 health emergency, hurricanes, and one severe weather event after another, I am concerned that the Legislature has again called themselves into a month-long session with an agenda of 70 items,” Edwards said last week in response to the call. “This session will occur at a time when the public will again be restricted in their access to the State Capitol and their ability to give needed public input.”

Legislators began the session just after 6 p.m. Monday. It must end by 6 p.m. on Oct. 27.

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