Louisiana News

Amid criticism, Louisiana Legislature adds safety protocols but continues meeting

While other state legislatures are suspending their work amid coronavirus concerns, Louisiana lawmakers were sticking with the current schedule Monday morning as they began the second week of the state’s legislative session.
Two deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, have been reported in Louisiana so far. State officials say 114 cases in 10 parishes, mostly in the southeastern part of the state, have been reported. The state lab has administered 284 tests.
Legislative leaders have enacted safety protocols in hopes of minimizing the risk of spreading the disease. People who have recently traveled abroad, feel sick, or have recently been in contact with someone who may be infected are asked to consider staying home.
Personnel stationed at State Capitol entrances are checking the temperature of anyone seeking to enter; those with a temperature over 100.4 degrees will not be allowed in, officials say. People allowed into the building are being given a sticker for that day to indicate that they were checked and are asked to wear the sticker in plain view. Fewer people are in committee rooms, where audience members are prevented by yellow caution tape from sitting next to each other.
“Because of the fluidity of the situation, we are asking all legislators and the public to be flexible and understanding as we make decisions that we believe are best for this state,” state House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said. “Our primary goal is to best serve the people of Louisiana.”
A number of state organizations and prominent individuals have called on the legislature to suspend its work.
“For goodness sake – legislative session should be suspended so we can all focus on our health and the health of our communities,” said Rebekah Gee, the former state health secretary recently hired to lead the LSU Health Care Services Division, via Twitter. “Continuing to make folks travel and congregate is sending mixed messages to the public.”
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, who chairs the state Democratic Party, criticized legislative leaders for “not following the guidance we want the public to follow.” The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending canceling or postponing gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.
Schexnayder and State Senate President Page Cortez last week announced plans to create a “contingency package” of spending bills that could be moved quickly to satisfy constitutional requirements to pass a balanced budget before the end of the fiscal year, in case virus concerns upend the session. The details of the bills and the plan for moving them is unclear as of Monday morning.
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