(The Center Square) – A Louisiana Senate committee on Wednesday killed two House of Representatives-passed measures that sought to chip away at the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.
House Concurrent Resolution 8 by Rep. Phillip DeVillier, a Eunice Republican, would have eliminated state regulators’ ability to punish bar owners for violating rules meant to control the pandemic. While barrooms in parishes with low rates of positive COVID-19 tests recently have been allowed to open, they are limited to 25 percent of normal capacity. A bar owner testified the limits prevent him from making enough money to pay his bills.
DeVillier said he objects to bars being treated differently than casinos and restaurants, though the latter types of businesses have their own sets of restrictions. Public health officials say bars present a higher risk to public health and have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks around the world, including in Louisiana.
“At the very least, we should be consistent,” DeVillier said.
He further argued that bar patrons and owners should be able to decide for themselves whether to risk contracting the new coronavirus. Sen. Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat, countered that failing to control the pandemic will burden the state’s health care system.
The judiciary committee voted 3-2 to defer the bill, killing it for the session.
Senators by the same margin voted to reject House Bill 9, which effectively would have carved out an exception to COVID-19 restrictions for religious organizations. The bill would have nullified charges against Tony Spell, a pastor who has gained attention for defying mandates against large gatherings.
Rep. Danny McCormick, an Oil City Republican, argues such restrictions violate state and federal constitutional religious freedom guarantees. He also pointed to the role churches play in his part of the state to provide meals for the needy and support people going through addiction recovery.
“We can’t carve out exceptions for churches,” said Chairman Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat, adding that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled health and safety regulations do not infringe upon religious freedom.
David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for The Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.