The Louisiana legislature called themselves into a special session that began on September 28 and which will end by October 27. The September 21 Proclamation lists 70 topics to be addressed, including items for replenishing Louisiana’s Unemployment Trust Fund, addressing COVID-19 recovery efforts, supporting communities impacted by Hurricane Laura, and possible funding of certain devastated school systems.
However, at the top of the list are items about the expanded powers of government under emergency conditions.
The first topic relates to “…legislative procedures, powers, duties, and authority pursuant to the Louisiana Health Emergency Powers Act…” The second item refers to ” … the power and authority of executive branch officers and agencies.”
Gov. Edwards immediately voiced his concerns in a September 21 statement.
“At a time when our state is dealing with the COVID-19 health emergency, hurricanes,
and one severe weather event after another, I am concerned that the Legislature has
again called themselves into a month-long session with an agenda of 70 items. This
session will occur at a time when the public will again be restricted in their access to the
State Capitol and their ability to give needed public input.
“From the beginning of this emergency, I have relied on public health experts and the
White House Coronavirus Task Force to guide Louisiana’s response to this historic
emergency. Further, this response has been in line with the measures taken by our
neighboring states that have unfortunately also been enormously impacted by COVID19.
“Put simply, the measures we have taken in Louisiana are working and we are making
significant progress. However, to abandon these efforts in defiance of the unanimous
advice of the public health experts and the Trump administration would seriously
jeopardize the lives of our people and the gains we have made. Further, it is important
to remember our work in containing COVID19 is far from done, as Louisiana still has the
highest number of per capita infections in the country.
“I am hopeful that the Legislative leadership will significantly narrow the scope and the
duration of this session so that they can do the work they deem necessary, while at the
same time working in a bipartisan and cooperative manner to address our
significant challenges in an honest and transparent manner. Louisianans have come
too far to have all of our effective and lifesaving work upended.”
In a September 28 editorial, The Advocate warned, “As with some of the other
budgetary items on the expansive menu, it’s too soon to say if the body can make
intelligent decisions when so many things, really almost everything, is in flux.
“Further, legislators should remind themselves that interfering with the complex
machinery of emergency declarations means that lawmakers will be taking responsibility upon themselves, individually and as a body, in a situation where there is no pleasant alternative, only a choice among bad options.”
Regarding the special session, proposed measures have been submitted and are being reviewed this month. The Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists did not submit a new copy of their legislation, which they proposed earlier this year in the
regular session. Sources indicate that the board is working on that legislation for 2021.
Very few bills have to do with psychology since the topics for the session are narrowed
to emergency events. However, House Bill 33 and Senate Bill 12, which are duplicates,
relate to emergency counseling in healthcare facilities.
Present law defines “mental health support personnel” to include psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and volunteer crisis counseling groups.
The proposed law provides that the Louisiana Department of Health may include the availability of no-cost or reduced-cost counseling or mental health support services offered by members of the clergy, religious organizations, or other nonprofit organizations when providing information about and referrals to mental health support personnel to address the psychological responses to the public health emergency.
The proposed law requires that, during the COVID-19 public health emergency or any
other contagious or infectious disease for which a state of public health emergency
has been declared, an inpatient healthcare facility provide patient or resident access
to members of the clergy for prayer, mental health support or religious counseling, the sacraments of Holy Communion, Anointing of the Sick, and Last Rites, and other such customary religious services that would normally be offered to patients or residents if the healthcare facility was not subject to a declaration of a state of public health