As session ends, Edwards won’t veto transgender athlete bill
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers wrapped up their 2022 regular legislative session ahead of the 6 p.m. deadline for adjournment Monday.
There was less drama than in past sessions because lawmakers wrapped up work on the state budget in May, avoiding last minute debates and down-to-the-wire votes.
A couple of high-profile bills died in the final hours. A proposal to arm volunteer teachers and school administrators to combat school shootings never got a needed Senate vote. A measure allowing lawmakers to more easily end health emergencies declared by governors also failed.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said he was pleased with the session overall,and praised a budget that includes more money for higher education, elementary and secondary school teacher pay raises and transportation infrastructure.
“Overall I’m very happy with the work that was accomplished this session,” Edwards said.
It appeared for a while that lawmakers would again pass legislation to do away with the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. A bill to do so passed the House and was awaiting action in the Senate. But the bill’s progress slowed as the national gun debate raged anew after the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers. A Senate committee converted the bill to one allowing the arming of teachers and school administrators who volunteer to provide security in addition to their regular duties. The language doing away with permits — an idea Edwards vetoed in 2021 — was excised. The revamped bill was pending on the Senate floor as the session neared its end.
If a highly anticipated Supreme Court decision reverses the Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion rights, Louisiana law will subject doctors or others who perform abortions to as many as 10 years in prison under legislation approved in the session. Two Democrats who are opposed to their party’s longtime support for abortion rights are key to the bill becoming law, including Sen. Katrina Jackson of Monroe, the bill’s author. Edwards was expected to sign it into law, although he stressed last week that he wanted to study it first.
Although the bill enhances penalties, Edwards noted, it was largely designed to “harmonize” laws already on the books making abortion illegal in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned. He said last week that he would prefer that the bill had exceptions for rape and incest victims but added that there are no such exceptions in current law and a veto of Jackson’s bill would not change that.
Work on the state’s $39 billion operating budget and related bills wrapped up on May 19. The legislation includes a $1,500 annual raise for teachers with a $750 raise for support workers. It also will direct $300 million toward a proposed new Mississippi River Bridge in the Baton Rouge area.
At a post-session news conference, Edwards also praised increases for early childhood education and higher education spending that includes money for faculty pay raises and deferred maintenance on buildings.
Edwards said he won’t veto a bill to keep transgender women and girls in Louisiana from competing on college and K-12 female athletic teams — even though he opposes it. He vetoed a similar bill last year and an override effort fell two votes short in the House. This year, he said, it’s clear that a veto would be overridden. But he stressed that he still believes there is no need for the measure, which he called “mean-spiritied” earlier this year.
“Whether it’s intended or not the effect is to send a strong message to at least some of these young people that they shouldn’t be who they think they are, who they believe they are, who they know that they are,” Edwards said.
Lawmakers wanting more say over any future governors’ emergency powers failed to pass a bill spelling out how either chamber of the Legislature, with petitions signed by a majority of its members, could end public health emergency declarations by future governors. It would have fine-tuned existing law that has been challenged in court by opponents who say it is unconstitutional to grant a single legislative body such power.
Approved in the final hours was action on a bill making government entities and public education institutions liable for civil damages if they deny entry to people based on COVID-19 vaccination status.
There was a failed attempt to, in effect, repeal a law passed in 2017 that ended the practice of routinely treating 17-year-old criminal suspects as adults. The Senate-passed legislation died in the House. Some prosecutors say the practice has contributed to a rise in violent crime and proponents of the repeal also point to violence in the state’s youth lockups as a reason to again treat 17-year-olds as adults. Opponents questioned whether the law is behind increased violent crime and worry about the harm that could come to some 17-year-olds in adult lockups.
The Legislature approved a bill to erase Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Memorial Day from a list of Louisiana holidays. Neither of the holidays has been officially observed by state government in years.