U.S.|Are masks still required in Louisiana? Lawmakers say no. The governor says yes, and sues.

Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

Louisiana’s statewide mask mandate and other coronavirus restrictions were up in the air on Tuesday, after Republican legislators used an obscure clause in state law to suspend the public health emergency declared by the governor.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, had a quick response: He sued.

Orders issued under the public health emergency require that most residents wear masks in public; limit the number of people who can attend high school football games; and require bars to close in areas where more than 5 percent of coronavirus tests are coming back positive, among other restrictions.

But state law says that either house of the State Legislature can end an emergency with a petition signed by a majority of its members. And a group of 65 Republican members of the House of Representatives submitted such a petition on Friday, calling for a seven-day pause.

“I have no problem with people wearing a mask,” Alan Seabaugh, the representative who organized the petition, said Tuesday in an interview. “I do have a huge problem with mandating a mask, because I don’t think government has authority to do that, ever, in any circumstances.”

He said he had only worn a mask once since the pandemic began — on an airplane, because the airline required it.

The state attorney general, Jeff Landry, released a statement on Saturday saying the petition was valid, and that the governor must issue a proclamation informing the public that the restrictions had ended.

But Mr. Edwards wasn’t having it. Saying the petition was unconstitutional, he sued the Louisiana State Legislature, the House of Representatives, and the Speaker of the House, Clay Schexnayder.

“On the very same day when the United States also reported 83,757 new cases of Covid-19 — the highest single-day total in this country — and 21 more Louisianans died from Covid-19, 65 members of the Louisiana House of Representatives chose to sign a petition, apparently claiming the public health emergency to be over,” the lawsuit said.

Christina Stephens, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the mask mandate and all the other restrictions in the governor’s public health order remain in place.

The legislators’ petition was flawed, she said in an email, because it came from only one house and because public health authorities were not adequately consulted — and in any case, the governor questioned whether the petition provision was valid.

Mr. Seabaugh called the constitutionality question “ridiculous” and said that any bar owners who try to reopen now and are fined should file civil rights complaints.

Louisiana had a major surge in coronavirus cases in April and another in July. Since then the state has stabilized at a lower but still worrisome level, with a recent average of 676 cases a day as of Monday. In all, the state has reported at least 184,724 cases and 5,872 deaths since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database.

Originally posted on https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/27/us/are-masks-still-required-in-louisiana-lawmakers-say-no-the-governor-says-yes-and-sues.html