Louisiana House moves forward with legislation to limit pandemic, vaccine restrictions | Legislature

Still smarting over their inability to spike the governor’s COVID-19 emergency orders, the Republican majority in the Louisiana House on Monday again sought power to cancel similar declarations through legislation that the governor has twice vetoed and a district court has disallowed.

Earlier in the day the Republicans on a House committee also advanced a Constitutional amendment that opponents said essentially would add anti-vaxxers as a protected class along with race, gender, religion and age.

Twenty-eight measures – all filed by Republicans – aim in one way or another to limit masks and vaccinations, business suspensions and social distancing, along with other government efforts during the pandemic to stanch the spread of the often-deadly virus that has killed 17,223 people in Louisiana – about the same number of people as live in Gretna, Zachary, or Opelousas.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the orders beginning in March 2020 when Louisiana hospitals started filling up with COVID victims. He lifted the order last month.

Many Louisiana conservatives claimed the pandemic reports were overexaggerated. Some representatives and senators argued that government efforts to stop the virus from spreading so fast – such as requiring proof of vaccination or a negative to eat at a restaurant or attend a Saints game – amounted to an unwarranted contractions of individual liberties.

Edwards twice vetoed legislation similar to the bill passed by the full House on Monday. “I need not provide here how catastrophic the pandemic may have been in Louisiana had the House members been successful in terminating the emergency protective measures during some of the worst months of the third surge in Louisiana,” Edwards wrote in his July 1 veto message of the majority’s last effort.

“In its present form, it’s exactly the same,” Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, said when comparing House Bill 12 with the legislation from last year.

Like the earlier legislation, House Bill 12 attempts to strengthen that hazy 20-year-old law that had never been used before.

HB12 would allow a majority of legislators — in either the House or Senate — to end future gubernatorial emergency declarations.

Initially, the measure required agreement of both chambers. A court last year that House Republicans didn’t properly apply a never-before-used law to end Edwards’ emergency order because only the House signed the petition. The Senate did not.

But HB12 was amended on the House floor to require only one chamber to agree to alter or reject a governor’s emergency order. Republican Mandeville Rep. Richard Nelson, a nonpracticing lawyer, said the Louisiana Supreme Court had overturned the lower court ruling.

Rep. Robbie Carter, a Democrat who practices law in Amite and Greensburg, pointed out the high court ruled that the time limits on the issue had expired and not that the lower court’s ruling was wrong.

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“This bill allows us to go in with a scalpel and remove parts of the order that one side doesn’t like,” Frieman said.

HB12 was approved 66-33 with only Republicans voting in favor of the measure.

Earlier in the day, the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure voted 11-1 to advance Frieman’s House Bill 53 that would add in the state Constitution “the fundamental right to autonomy with respect to healthcare decisions.”

The protection wouldn’t extend to a woman seeking an abortion and wouldn’t apply to requirements put on healthcare providers of patients on Medicare and Medicaid.

Democratic Lake Charles Rep. Wilford D. Carter Sr., who is a retired state district judge, pointed out that if Frieman’s bill became part of the Constitution, people could file lawsuits challenging an employment termination, consumer or other action was based on a healthcare decision. Essentially, the legislation would create anti-vaxxers as a protected class, such as gender, age, race and religion, he said.

“This would create a fifth basis,” Carter said. “The language is misleading.”

Frieman didn’t disagree. “It gives people the right of choice,” he said.

Carter was the only member of the committee to vote against advancing HB53.

As Constitutional amendment, the legislation must receive two-thirds majorities in both chambers: 70 in the House, 26 in the Senate. If so, the question will be put to the state’s voters on Nov. 8 and a simple majority would have to agree before the language could be added to the state Constitution.

Voting for HB12 (66): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps. Amedée, Bacala, Bagley, Beaullieu, Bishop, Bourriaque, Butler, Carrier, Coussan, Crews, Davis, Deshotel, DuBuisson, Echols, Edmonds, Edmonston, Emerson, Farnum, Firment, Fontenot, Freiberg, Frieman, Gadberry, Garofalo, Geymann, Goudeau, Harris, Hilferty, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Huval, Illg, Ivey, M. Johnson, Kerner, Mack, Magee, McCormick, McFarland, McKnight, McMahen, Miguez, G. Miller, Mincey, Muscarello, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, R. Owen, Pressly, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Schlegel, Seabaugh, St. Blanc, Stefanski, Tarver, Thomas, Turner, Villio, Wheat, Wright and Zeringue.

Voting against HB12 (33): Reps Adams, Boyd, Brass, Brown, Bryant, Carpenter, R. Carter, W. Carter, Cormier, Duplessis, Fisher, Freeman, Glover, Green, Jefferson, Jenkins, T. Johnson, Jordan, LaFleur, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Marcelle, Marino, D. Miller, Newell, Phelps, Pierre, Selders, Stagni, Thompson, White and Willard.

Not Voting (6): Reps Cox, DeVillier, Gaines, Hughes, LaCombe, and Moore.

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