Louisiana veto session ends with no bill rejections reversed

Jul 21, 2021, 12:45 AM | Updated: 4:04 pm

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers ended their historic veto session Wednesday after two days in which Republicans failed to overturn any of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ bill rejections, a significant blow to GOP efforts to assert independence from the Democratic governor.

The session collapsed after House Republicans couldn’t garner the votes to reverse Edwards’ veto of legislation banning transgender girls from school sports teams, the driving force behind the first veto session ever held under the nearly 50-year-old state constitution.

“It appears that we have concluded the business of the veto session,” Republican Senate President Page Cortez said two hours after the House’s failed override vote.

While the Senate narrowly agreed Tuesday to the veto override of the sports ban, the House on Wednesday fell two votes short of the two-thirds support required to bypass the governor. Republicans were unable to sway the handful of Democrats needed to reach the supermajority hurdle to mark what would have been the first time in nearly 30 years that the Louisiana Legislature has overridden a gubernatorial veto.

Republican-led efforts to reverse Edwards’ spurning of a bill to loosen the rules for carrying concealed handguns in Louisiana stalled in the Senate, with three votes fewer than required. Other veto overrides in the Senate failed as well, and the House didn’t try to overturn anything beyond the sports ban measure.

“At the end of the day, the Legislature got it right and I’m immensely thankful for that,” Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, said at a celebratory news conference after adjournment.

Still, Republican leader Rep. Blake Miguez said the GOP “made strides” toward greater legislative independence simply by breaking decades of tradition and holding the veto session.

The transgender sports ban spurred the unprecedented gathering, after winning bipartisan backing in the regular session. Republican legislators said they heard an overwhelming outcry from Louisiana residents who wanted the law.

The House GOP’s inability to cobble together the needed votes came two days after Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder told reporters he was “comfortable 100%” that his chamber had the support for the override.

But the House vote Wednesday was 68-30. It needed 70 votes to pass. The Senate on Tuesday voted 26-12 to override the bill rejection, the bare minimum needed for the override. Those votes were fewer than the support the bill had when it originally passed.

“While I am frustrated by the result, I am encouraged by the fact that we did something that has never been done in this state in asserting our legislative independence,” Schexnayder said in a statement. “Veto sessions should be the norm from now on.”

Edwards put a strong effort behind sustaining his vetoes, calling back his former gubernatorial campaign manager, who now lives in Washington, to help defeat the overrides. Republicans accused him of threatening lawmakers and offering projects to corral votes.

“I used all those (tactics) that were at my disposal that previous governors have used and that they were using downstairs themselves,” Edwards said. “Are we going to take politics out of politics?”

The governor said he was “very, very light on threats, not so light on promises.”

Supporters of the transgender sports ban described it as protecting girls across K-12 schools and colleges from unfair competition. The bill by Franklinton Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, was called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”

“Respecting biological differences is not discrimination. It’s not hate,” said Rep. Laurie Schlegel, the Metairie Republican who handled the bill in the House. She urged her colleagues: “Be courageous. Fight like a girl and vote to override this veto.”

The legislation is similar to bans passed by Republican-led legislatures in several states, such as Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.

Opponents said the measure enshrines discrimination into state law.

Edwards said the veto override would have damaged Louisiana’s ability to draw NCAA sporting events or large conventions. He noted that bill backers could not point to a single Louisiana-specific example of why the bill might be needed.

“If there’s not a problem to correct, why would you even take the slightest risk of harming your economy coming out of a pandemic?” the governor said.

New Orleans Rep. Royce Duplessis, who spoke on behalf of the House opposition, said the legislation would make life more difficult for vulnerable children with higher rates of suicide and depression.

“This is nothing more than a manufactured wedge issue,” he said. “This bill will not protect our girls. This bill will only further ostracize and alienate our state’s most vulnerable.”

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has enacted the equivalent of a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams.

One Republican in the House, Rep. Joe Stagni of Kenner, broke ranks and voted against the veto override. One Democrat, Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi, supported overturning the governor’s bill rejection.

___

Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

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Louisiana veto session ends with no bill rejections reversed