Louisiana Legislature Sends Power Grab Bill to Governor

UPDATE: On Thursday, June 29, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) vetoed House Bill 260.

WASHINGTON, D.C. On Thursday, June 8, the Louisiana Legislature passed House Bill 260, a bill that would require all election-related rulemaking to be funneled through the Legislature. 

H.B. 260 passed the state House on May 17 and the state Senate on June 1. After the House agreed upon small tweaks made in the Senate, the bill now heads to the desk of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his signature or veto.

H.B. 260 would remove local administrators’ authority to implement federal election guidance and instead place it with the Legislature, though it is unclear how this new authority may clash with the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, H.B. 260 would prohibit election officials from implementing federal election directives or using federal election funds without an explicit state or federal law requiring it or approval from the Legislature. The bill empowers the attorney general to “pursue any available legal means” to prevent election officials who violate these requirements from dispersing federal funds.

“Such a measure might have hampered efforts to hold elections during the pandemic, plus it doesn’t necessarily account for the fact that Louisiana must follow federal election law,” wrote Greg LaRose, a contributor to the local Louisiana Illuminator. 

Arkansas enacted a law in March that similarly requires all state and county election officials to submit federal guidance to the secretary of state for legislative review. These bills, which lean into a right-wing idea that state legislatures have unique authority over federal election laws, implicitly endorse a fringe legal theory known as the independent state legislature (ISL) theory.

The ISL theory interprets the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause use of “legislature” to mean that a state legislature — and legislature alone — can set federal election rules. This interpretation is counter to history and legal precedent, and if validated in a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, it would give state lawmakers remarkable power to set federal election rules without oversight from state courts or beholden to their state constitutions.

Read H.B. 260 here.

Track the status of H.B. 260 here.