State appeals court tosses suit seeking to end now-expired virus order 

Gov. John Bel Edwards at press briefing in April 2020. (Collin Richie)

A lawsuit involving Republican lawmakers’ efforts to block coronavirus restrictions imposed last year by Gov. John Bel Edwards has been dismissed by a state appeals court.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge didn’t rule on the merits of the case. It said in the ruling, dated Wednesday, that the issue was moot because the executive order imposing the restrictions expired last November.

At issue was a petition signed last year by 65 GOP members of the House ordering Edwards to, in effect, rescind a mask mandate and virus-related capacity limits on businesses, among other restrictions. The petition was issued under an obscure section of a 2003 state law allowing a majority in either the House or the Senate to sign a petition forcing the governor to end a public health emergency declaration.

State District Judge William Morvant in Baton Rouge ruled in favor of the governor on Nov. 12, saying the petition was unconstitutional because Edwards’ emergency rules have the force of law and couldn’t be blocked by an action of one legislative body.

The Supreme Court later sent the case back to Morvant, not ruling on the merits but saying the district judge needed to hold a full hearing on multiple issues raised in the Republican lawsuit challenging Edwards’ refusal to rescind his restrictions.

Efforts by some in the GOP to use the petition provision haven’t ended. About a dozen Republican lawmakers in the 105-member Louisiana House are seeking to try a new petition effort, aimed at ending Edwards’ latest mask mandate. That’s one of the only major COVID-19 restrictions left in place by the governor as the state emerges from its fourth surge of the virus.

The group of Republicans described their latest petition push in a letter to House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, who hasn’t publicly commented on the idea.