(The Center Square) – Republicans in the Louisiana House of Representatives are urging Gov. John Bel Edwards to rethink his executive order limiting many nonessential businesses to 25 percent of their normal capacity.
Edwards said the rule is meant to ensure businesses allow for enough space for social distancing, which helps reduce the spread of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Social distancing guidelines require allowing for six feet of space between people who are not part of the same household and 10 feet between tables.
But some business owners say the 25 percent rule is arbitrary and does not allow them to have enough paying customers to cover their expenses. Rep. Lance Harris, an Alexandria Republican, says businesses, mentioning restaurants specifically, have shown they can maintain social distancing without the restriction.
“Twenty-five percent occupancy is tying two hands behind the back of these restaurants,” Harris said.
Harris’ request for Edwards to reconsider the rule comes in the form of an amendment to House Concurrent Resolution 73, which asks Edwards administration officials “to provide an immediate update to the Legislature of Louisiana on efforts to establish an application or system to track the incidence and spread of COVID-19.” The resolution also was amended to clarify that it does not endorse contact tracing.
Contact tracing is a public health tool that involves contacting people who have come in contact with an infected person to let them know they may be infected too and asking them to self-quarantine to limit the spread. Some lawmakers have privacy concerns about the process and fear participation will be mandatory, though Edwards says cooperation is voluntary and contact tracers will be trained to maintain the same level of privacy as a doctor’s office or hospital.
Also on Monday, House members approved:
House Concurrent Resolution 66, which would suspend the state franchise tax on the first $300,000 of a company’s income. The change, which would keep an estimated $10.2 million over the next two years from the state’s general fund, is meant to give a boost to small businesses reeling from the pandemic’s fallout.
House Concurrent Resolution 6, which creates a Medicaid oversight committee made up of members from the state House and Senate. Supporters say the committee would be able to focus on state government’s largest and most expensive program, potentially leading to better oversight and lessening the burden on existing committees.
Skeptics note the joint committee wouldn’t have any powers existing committees on health care and spending don’t have, nor would it take over those committee’s responsibilities. They say the new committee would only add more bureaucracy.
House Concurrent Resolution 4 would allow parishes to designate themselves “ITEP Ready.” Edwards in 2016 gave local governing bodies a say in whether local property tax dollars will be sacrificed to attract manufacturing investments, which many business advocates say has made the program too unpredictable to be useful.
HCR 4 calls for letting parish governing authorities designate their parish “ITEP Ready,” which means local approval would be granted automatically for any application that meets program guidelines.
House Concurrent Resolution 28, which calls for a convention of states to amend the U.S. Constitution to set term limits for members of Congress.