It took most of Monday morning for the “Don’t Be Stupid” disinfectant spray to filter through the halls and committee rooms of Louisiana’s legislature, but by noon it was clear state lawmakers were going to call a halt to their proceedings, at least temporarily.
Just after one in the afternoon, the Governor’s Office announced an update of John Bel Edwards’ prior public health emergency proclamation. Rather than limiting public gatherings to 250 or fewer, the number has been reduced to 50 or fewer, in accordance with the most recent Centers for Disease Control recommendations.
Once the House convened at 3 p.m., a resolution for temporary adjournment, HCR 27 by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, was introduced, and the rules were suspended to permit immediate consideration.
Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) urged passage of the resolution, saying, “This is a step of caution for this body, for the staff, and for the people of Louisiana.”
But Rep. Phillip Tarver (R-Lake Charles), a freshman lawmaker, objected, saying, “It is our duty as leaders of this state to conduct our business. Adjournment is inappropriate and the wrong message to send to our citizens at this time.”
Louisiana would be sending the same message to its citizens as the states of Georgia, Vermont, and Colorado have done, and that California’s legislature is considering doin this week. By suspending the legislative sessions, they are all hoping to help prevent further viral transmission.
When Louisiana’s House vote was tabulated, it was 100-1 in favor of the resolution. Rep. Tarver was the lone vote against.
The Senate came in at 4 p.m., and it wasn’t long before they addressed HCR 27. It was a first year, first-term lawmaker, Sen. Barry Milligan (R-Shreveport) who handled the Speaker’s resolution.
“We all came here in good faith, without the expectation we would have to take this step,” Milligan said. “It is for the betterment of our families, communities, our members and our staff in the capitol that we adjourn until 11 a.m., March 31st. The House has passed the motion, and I recommend we pass it as well.”
The Senate vote was unanimously in favor, 35-0.
And just before adjournment, Senate President Page Cortez said, “The reason we made this decision is because we have a lot of people to come to this capitol to testify and so on. We also have a lot of people travelling to and from New Orleans to be here. We do have plenty of time to complete the business by June 1st, if we work hard when we come back.”
In between the two chambers being called to order, the governor held a press conference, giving the latest information compiled from the day’s Unified Command Group meeting on the virus epidemic as well as discussing the more stringent restrictions added to the emergency order.
“This is a rapidly evolving and rapidly escalating situation, and so we have significantly ramped up our efforts to slow the spread,” the governor explained. “We had one case one week ago. Now we have one of the highest per capita numbers of cases in the country: 136 cases in 11 parishes. And three Louisiana residents have died.”
Monday afternoon’s tally also includes the first coronavirus case in the capital region, an Ascension Parish individual.
“This is a very serious situation that demands a serious and swift response, because we know this virus spreads easily and swiftly. So tonight, beginning at midnight, we are closing all casinos, bars, movie theaters, gyms and fitness centers.”
Further, the governor said, restaurants will need to close their dining areas, though they are still permitted to do take-out, drive-through and delivery meal orders. Grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open, though they may shorten their business hours.
Acknowledging that these measures might seem extreme to some, the governor also advised that the restrictions might need to be extended for an additional month, as the CDC is now recommending an 8-week hiatus in social engagements in order to keep COVID-19 infections from exploding and overwhelming medical treatment facilities.
Throughout the past week, there had been a few folks spreading gross misinformation, criticizing the responses to the pandemic, and endeavoring to make it political, rather than medical.
Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser did some Twitter whining after New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell cancelled St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day events and parades, in an effort to limit spread of the disease. Nungesser, the titular head of state tourism, is a Republican. Cantrell is a Democrat.
Former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, a three-time unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate (in 1978, 1980, and 1996) and now chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party, posted to Facebook:
“Folks, we are being fed pure, unadulterated bull you-know-what about the coronavirus!…We need to stop cancelling events, closing schools and businesses, and restricting our lifestyles and our liberties before even worse and more permanent damage is done! We have more deaths by automobile accident in ONE DAY than we have had from the coronavirus since January! Tell the politicians to stop this madness and allow life to return to normal now!”
That was on Saturday morning, March 14, at 5:16 a.m.
Monday evening, Jenkins posted this:
In general, though, it appears the pandemic is forging a truce in the partisan bickering and backbiting that has dominated Louisiana politics for the past four years. For example, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) publicly commended Gov. Edwards for his efforts to slow the spread, tweeting:
And last week, one of the governor’s harshest critics, former state Sen. Conrad Appel, had this to say, via Twitter.
The restrictions aren’t pleasant. For many of Louisiana’s lowest-paid service industry workers, they are utter financial disaster. However, there’s hope these extreme measures may serve to keep the largest possible number of Louisiana residents alive and well throughout this epidemic.
“The fact of the matter is the best we can hope for is a slowdown of transmission, not a halt to it,” Governor Edwards said. “Each of us must do our part. Cook at home. Avoid discretionary travel, social excursions and visits. But be a good neighbor and call your elderly friends and family members to check on them.”