A healthcare worker invited me to a meeting with Louisiana’s Speaker of the House. She wanted to ask questions and share information she felt was important. I went as moral support but had the opportunity to ask a few questions of my own.
Initially we were unsure about whether I would be allowed in the meeting. Schexnayder’s staff had made it clear that she could not bring other healthcare workers or he would not meet with her. I was willing to show up and sit outside if that was all I could do. To my surprise, my presence was not an issue, maybe because I am not a healthcare worker. At last year’s meeting Clay Schexnayder, Buddy Mincey, and Paula Davis insisted cellular devices be put in a basket outside of the room. This time there was no such request. This meeting was less top secret. When we walked into the room the television was on and the office doors were open. Staff was also in and out of the room.
What is the Goal?
The first question the healthcare worker had was about where legislators are getting their data. Schexnayder explained that all data comes from Louisiana Department of Health. At one point I expressed that the Department of Health gives us plenty of reason to not trust their number. He went on to explain a separate situation where LDH went to a Health and Welfare Committee meeting without even reading the bill it was about. I told him it is scary that that is who is in charge of everything. His response was “exactly”.
The next question was one that Louisiana citizens have asked numerous times over the past 19 months. “What number do we have to reach to end the emergency?” The healthcare worker added that we will never get to 0 and asked what the goal is. The speaker of the House seemed unsure. According to him he and the governor have not spoken since the failed veto session. Our elected officials are not communicating. Could this be part of the problem? Has anyone defined what number dictates an emergency?
The healthcare worker shared a lot of information with the speaker. They also asked him to forward to others who may not have seen the same data. Schexnayder took notes and seemed captivated by what was being shared. Unfortunately, he still would not budge on the petition and do something about the emergency. The healthcare worker explained that if someone is going to sit there and tell her its not possible, they must not be the person to do that job.
What About a Petition?
Clay Schexnayder has shown that he is hesitant to do another petition. So, I asked him what it would hurt. Why not just do another one? He seemed to agree with what the healthcare worker and I had to say, so why not end the emergency today? He said we must address policy. According to him this can only be fixed by changing the laws. He was adamant that a petition must have a date and emergency order number.
This is not what the judge had to say in court on July 12, 2021. In fact the judge said one of the mistakes was that the other petition was specific to a certain emergency order. Clay Schexnayder was not in court that day. He may have notes about what was said, but I was there.
I asked Clay Schexnayder to arrange a meeting between him, Jeff Landry, and myself. I wanted a better understanding as what I heard in court and what Schexnayder was saying were completely different. His response was that the attorney general does not draft legislation and his staff is just as capable. I never questioned his staff’s capabilities for drafting legislation. I simply wanted a conversation with my attorney general and my speaker of the house about the petition process.
“The way that the petition is formed now I think and staff believes it’s unconstitutional. We have to fix that with legislation, We can’t fix it any other way.”
I mentioned throwing Schexnayder’s “necessary” legislation into February’s redistricting session. According to Schexnayder, even if legislators did that, the governor would veto it. He admitted that it is possible to do a petition without an expensive special session but that he does not want to put anybody in a position where they end up in court again.
Use the Power You Already Have to End This
Schexnayder spoke of other concerns from hurricane damage. There are schools still struggling to reopen. It is upsetting that these things are being overshadowed by Covid-19. This is why it is imperative that we end this emergency now.
Jamie Pope: “If we have to wait until y’all are in session again then it’s really not worth fighting for. I honestly feel that way. If y’all aren’t willing to to what y’all have the power to do now then God only knows what happens in the next few months.”
Clay Schexnayder: “I’m confused on what you think we have the power to do.”
Jamie Pope: “Y’all have the power to do the petition and I know that y’all can do it in a way where it is effective. I know you’re saying that you can’t but I know that you can.”
Clay Schexnayder: “In order to fix this and make it do what you want it to do, we have to change this law.”
Jamie Pope: “You’re a powerful man and I wish you would use it.”
Clay Schexnayder: “I think I have. Tell me what I haven’t done.”
Jamie Pope: “Do another petition. Do as many as it takes. If I’m wrong, then nothing happens. If I’m right, maybe the emergency ends.
Perhaps a Special Session is the Answer
The take away was that a special session is our only hope. During a session legislators can suspend state law by concurrent resolution. The governor can not veto a resolution. The Speaker of the House did say that he has no problem with a special session as long as legislators are willing to sign on to it. He did not specify which law he would suspend. He only said he wanted to change the law so that both houses would have to sign a petition, which would give the governor more power.
According to Attorney General Jeff Landry, the current law is constitutional until the Supreme Court says it isn’t. But we already know that Judge William Morvant already tried the unconstitutional argument and the Supreme Court rejected it. So why is Clay Schexnayder using an excuse that has already been debunked by the Louisiana Supreme Court? Where is the language to the concurrent resolution that Schexnayder says will fix all of this?
Ben Franklin once said “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
Don’t just sit there, do something!
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