Court upholds Covid restrictions

Court upholds Covid restrictions

A partisan effort by House Republicans to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ emergency power was ruled unconstitutional on Thursday by a Baton Rouge district judge. The ruling by state District Judge William Morvant marked the latest defeat for Attorney General Jeff Landry, who represented the 65 House Republicans who signed a petition to cancel the business restrictions ordered by Edwards to limit the spread of Covid-19. The case, as reported by Sam Karlin of The Advocate, turned mainly on the fact that the petition was not joined by the state Senate:

‘The Legislature gave the governor the authority to make these proclamations and issue them and they would have the force and effect of law,’ Morvant said. ‘The existence of any legislative power is not on the Senate or House acting alone, but by the concurrent action of both houses.’

Landry vowed to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, even though House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez each expressed doubts before the hearing about whether the petition was constitutional. The hearing took on a bit of a circus atmosphere, as Landry shared the Zoom conference link with supporters who want the Covid restrictions lifted. Wesley Muller of the Louisiana Illuminator:

Held via Zoom video conference, Tuesday’s court hearing was interrupted several times by a citizen spectator who shouted his disappointment with Judge Morvant’s reasoning, saying the state “should be open.” Morvant told the man to be quiet, telling him he would be held in contempt if the hearing were in an actual courtroom. Instead, the judge’s only recourse was to have the man muted. Additionally, the Zoom conference’s chat thread was turned off during the hearing after it filled up with derogatory comments about the judge and words of support for Attorney General Jeff Landry.

In the past two days, the Louisiana Department of Health has reported 2,173 new cases and 34 new deaths in Louisiana. Total infections in the state are 191,889, and total confirmed deaths are 5,863.


Are corporations trying to game ITEP reforms to avoid paying taxes?
In June 2016, an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards changed the rules for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) to give local governments the right to veto proposed property tax breaks for manufacturing corporations. But this reform only applies to projects that were announced after the executive order. This question of timing is at the heart of a controversy over a tax break sought by Marathon Petroleum for a project that started in January 2018 using an Advance Notification Application number it received for a different project in 2014. As Mark Ballard reports in The Times-Picayune | Baton Rouge Advocate, Marathon wants the application considered under the old rules, while activists with Together Louisiana argue the ITEP system is being gamed to prevent local oversight of up to $43 million in property tax breaks:

‘As the activists looked over Friday’s board agenda, they checked the older list of projects and found, under the same number, 2014-1606, a $386 million project begun on Jan. 1, 2015, to install a U311 Natural Gasoline Hydrotreater, said Broderick Bagert, an official with the group, pointing to the entries on the documents… “What appears to be happening here is that Marathon has re-packaged a new exemption request, which should be subject to the Governor’s reforms and local input, into an old, unrelated advance notice submitted prior to the Governor’s reforms, in order to evade the local input process,” Bagert said Thursday.’

The Marathon ITEP application will be discussed today at the state Board of Commerce and Industry. Disclosure: LBP Executive Director Jan Moller is a member of the Board, but will not be present at the meeting due to a previous commitment. 


Time for the Senate to get to work
In a new Working Economics Blog, Heidi Shierholz argues that Senate Republicans must cooperate soon with House Democrats to provide Covid-19 relief, including extension and expansion of Unemployment Insurance (UI). Otherwise, millions of Americans are at risk of losing benefits, which would cause lasting damage to the U.S. economy as remaining pandemic unemployment programs are set to expire before the end of the year:

More than 1.0 million people applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits again last week, including 709,000 people who applied for regular state UI and 298,000 who applied for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA is the federal program that provides up to 39 weeks of benefits for workers who are not eligible for regular unemployment insurance, like the self-employed. Without congressional action, PUA will expire on December 26th.

After the weekly $600 pandemic UI benefits expired this summer, most unemployed workers have been relying on state unemployment assistance, most of which provide up to 26 weeks of benefits. But as Shierholz points out, the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 has gone on much longer than that. Consequently, claims for state UI have been dropping as many workers are losing eligibility for state UI benefits, but the financial need for support still remains.


HHS “SUNSET” regulation risks cuts to Medicaid and CHIP
At the beginning of November, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a proposal, “Securing Updated and Necessary Statutory Evaluations Timely” or “SUNSET” that would require the department to retroactively review every regulation it has ever issued, or allow them to expire. Andy Schneider of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families writes that this approach practically ensures that HHS would review regulations it wants to keep, while allowing those it doesn’t to expire: 

‘This proposal is not subtle. Nor is it random. It pairs nicely with the ironically-captioned “Good Guidance” proposal the Department published on August 20 targeting subregulatory guidance like State Medicaid Director letters. Under that proposal, SMDs would not “have the force and effect of law” because they are not issued using notice-and-comment rulemaking process that produces regulations.  Under last week’s proposal, regulations that have been issued through the notice-and-comment process would automatically expire unless the Department reviews the regulation before the expiration date. … Of course, if the Department didn’t have the bandwidth to conduct these “assessments” and “reviews” for each “regulation” every 10 years, it could simply pick and choose which “regulations” it didn’t like and allow them to expire automatically. Easy peasy.’


Number of the Day:
2,173 – The number of new Covid-19 infections reported to the state from Nov. 10 through Nov. 12.  (Source: Louisiana Department of Health)