BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal to keep Louisiana's emergency orders from governing churches and to upend prosecution of a pastor who violated Gov. John Bel Edwards' coronavirus restrictions was narrowly shelved Wednesday by state senators.
A Senate judiciary committee voted 3-2 to kill the bill by Oil City Republican Rep. Danny McCormick that would have prohibited government agencies or officials from being able to fine, penalize or prosecute anyone who attends or conducts a church service during a publicly declared emergency.
The measure, which had won House support in a 66-24 vote, sought to apply its provisions to any actions pending when the bill became law. The move was aimed at disrupting the prosecution of Tony Spell, minister at Life Tabernacle Church in Central, for violating Edwards’ ban on large gatherings.
Spell was charged in April with several misdemeanor offenses for repeatedly holding in-person church services with hundreds of people not distanced from each other, in defiance of the governor’s restrictions on crowd sizes at the time. Spell also was arrested later on an assault charge after authorities said he drove a church bus toward a man protesting his decision. The cases are pending.
Edwards has since loosened crowd size limits on churches and many other places.
After a quick hearing, voting to kill the bill were Sens. Joe Bouie, a New Orleans Democrat; Ronnie Johns, a Lake Charles Republican; and Greg Tarver, a Shreveport Democrat. Voting for the bill were Sens. Mike Reese, a Leesville Republican, and Kirk Talbot, a River Ridge Republican. Committee Chairman Gary Smith, a Norco Democrat, didn't vote.
The bill is filed as House Bill 9.