Did Louisiana’s government infringe on the rights of its citizens with its COVID-19 mandates? Today, the Pelican Institute released a report to answer that question and offer approaches for addressing the ongoing pandemic and future disasters while safeguarding both public health and individual liberty.
In future legislative sessions, lawmakers should consider the lessons learned from this crisis, just as they did in the sessions following Hurricane Katrina. One necessary update is to require legislative approval for the renewal of public health emergency declarations, a practice that is already in place in several other states.
In addition to offering policy solutions, the report covers a variety of issues, including the constitutional authority granted to states to protect public health, currently available federal assistance, and the practical application of Louisiana’s public health emergency statutes.
One of the paper’s key findings is that Louisiana’s public health emergency statutes are much more far-reaching than those of other states. The statutes contain provisions that cut bureaucratic red tape, encourage Good Samaritans to act, and assist the state in procuring necessary personnel, supplies, and funding. However, these are not written in a way that requires our state’s governor to honor individual liberty.
Louisiana lawmakers took steps to help the state respond to the COVID-19 shutdowns and ease business concerns about reopening by passing laws that limit liability for COVID-related lawsuits against restaurants, schools, manufacturers, and other businesses. But there is more work to do.
Lawmakers should also pay careful attention to court decisions related to these executive orders. As of today, litigation targeting executive orders has yielded mixed results. One reason for this is that courts called upon to rule on executive orders related to shutdowns or crowd size limitations are getting hamstrung by a 115-year-old Supreme Court ruling. Jacobson v. Massachusetts is the landmark decision that gave states’ police power to act during a public health emergency so long as the activity is reasonably related to support public health or safety.
The health and economic crises of the last several months have dealt a significant blow to countless Louisianans. The difficulties we’re facing bring to mind a number of critical questions – what is the truth about the rules and laws, what have we learned from these crises, and how can we make improvements to our system for the future? During a time when so many are seeking tangible solutions and actions to address these major issues, it is critical that our leaders step up and lead the discussion.
We must remember that our guaranteed constitutional rights don’t simply disappear when we’re in a crisis, and it’s up to all of us to ensure our freedoms and liberties are upheld. Click here to view the one-page overview or click here to view the full report from the Pelican Institute.