Victory! Louisiana reopens under Phase One

This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Convincing the Governor Was no Small Task

On Monday, May 11th, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards announced his acquiescence to allowing Louisiana’s small businesses to reopen. Officially, Louisiana is moving into Phase One of Donald Trump’s plan to reopen the national economy.

There were several instruments to reopen the economy moving through the legislature. On May 1st, Representative Alan Seabaugh had started circulating a petition to his fellow legislators. That process would have invoked RS 29:768(B) to terminate the state of emergency. It would have required 53 legislators or 20 senators to sign a document undoing the Governor’s executive order.

Rep. Seabaugh kept the exact number of collected signatures secret. However, we do know that many legislators were waiting on Edwards’ announcement to make a decision. Had Edwards decided to extend stay-at-home until June 1st, it’s likely the 53 signatures would have been easily met.

House Concurrent Resolution

The second instrument to reopen the state was HCR-58 by Republican Delegation Leader, Representative Blake Miguez. It had already cleared the House Governmental Affairs committee and was likely to be voted on by the entire House on Wednesday. From there, it would have gone to the Senate governmental affairs committee, and finally the senate floor for final approval. It was a longer process, but it was an alternative to revoking the entire emergency order.

For now, the HCR will be held back. Since the session ends on June 1st, it’s not likely to move anytime soon. Should the governor decided to stay in Phase 1 longer than necessary, this method will no longer be available after the session ends. However, a special session is likely to be called to make up for the two months lost while the legislature was in session, but not meting due to the virus.

Governor Gets Out of a Tight Spot

Previously, the governor had said he didn’t think the state was ready to graduate from his stay-at-home order. Just a few days later, as these instruments continued to gain steam, he suddenly changed his tune. Surprisingly, his inexplicable shift to open Louisiana wasn’t watered down or restricted in any way that we’ve been able to determine.

Politically speaking, if either one of these two efforts to reopen Louisiana without the governor were allowed to succeed, it would have dinged his credibility. He did the smart thing by making a late departure from bad policy and jumping on current public opinion before it reached critical mass. By getting in front of the two instruments, he can now pretend to be leading the way – to where everyone was already going without him.

Why this is a victory for Louisiana

While 25% occupancy certainly isn’t perfect, it is better than what we had. Effectively, it means Louisiana can start to claw back from record unemployment. Albeit, the effort will be tied to the occupancy limit of 25% strength. Said another way, 75% of employees won’t be necessary until 75% of the business is allowed to reopen.

The initial purpose of both instruments was to allow areas of Louisiana to re-open depending on how the virus was impacting an individual parish. Crippled parishes can lock down further. At the same time, unscathed parishes can open up beyond the 25% limit. It’s a perfect example of how Federalism is supposed to work. That’s what makes the United States different than any other country in the world.

Instead, what the governor announced was a one-size-fits-all reopening of every parish in the state. While this is great news for most of Louisiana that isn’t suffering greatly at the hands of the virus, it may not be smart for places like New Orleans. Still, it’s a victory for small businesses who were suffering mightily at the hands of Edwards.

Just before the Edwards’ 2:30 conference, the Speaker sent out an email to members about 2:00. Earlier in the day, and seemingly out of nowhere, Latoya Cantrell, the mayor of New Orleans, indicated that she planed a move to Phase One on May 16th. It’s easy to interpret these moves as Edwards informing key players of his intentions in advance. That the New Orleans area is the problem that’s been holding the entire state back from re-opening, the mayor’s announcement was something of a surprise. However, because Governor Edwards made the same announcement two hours later, it now makes perfect senses.

What’s Ahead

It’s hard to know if reopening the worst part of the state was a smart move. The conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but think it may be an attempt to spike cases to justify a return to the stay-at-home order later on. As the presidential election approaches, it’s clear one side wants to completely change all the voting rules. An emergency makes people more wiling to do things they wouldn’t otherwise.

Emergencies also invoke emergency voting guidelines that the legislature recently created. Those mail-in-ballot guidelines make it much easier for those with nefarious intent to get around Louisiana’s Voter ID laws. However, the news has been crowded with medical experts suggesting COVID should considerably slow down during the warmer summer months. So, it’s certainly possible that relaxing the rules, even in New Orleans, won’t result in a dramatic spike of cases. The next question, which no one knows the answer to, is: when do we move to Phase Two?

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Michael Lunsford
Michael Lunsford
Michael Lunsford is a writer for NRN and the executive director of Citizens for a New Louisiana. He's an elected representative of the Louisiana Republican Party and Chairman of the St. Martin Parish Republican Party.