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Louisiana lawmakers to hold historic veto override session

July 16, 2021 GMT
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FILE - In this March 9, 2020 file photo, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, left, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, react after Cortez broke Schexnayder's gavel for the opening of the 2020 general legislative session in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana lawmakers will hold their first veto session under the state's nearly 50-year-old constitution. The session will open Tuesday, July 20, 2021, and last up to five days. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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FILE - In this March 9, 2020 file photo, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, left, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, react after Cortez broke Schexnayder's gavel for the opening of the 2020 general legislative session in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana lawmakers will hold their first veto session under the state's nearly 50-year-old constitution. The session will open Tuesday, July 20, 2021, and last up to five days. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers will hold a tradition-busting veto session as Republicans push to overturn Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of bills that would ban transgender girls from school sports and remove restrictions on concealed handguns.

The session — to open Tuesday and last up to five days — will make history as the first veto session ever held under the Louisiana Constitution enacted in 1974.

The constitution calls for a veto session to be scheduled automatically when a governor jettisons legislation. However, a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering, and lawmakers had canceled every veto session over nearly five decades.

But the Republican-led House and Senate are spurning that tradition this year. Neither chamber’s membership turned in enough ballots by the Thursday midnight deadline to stop this year’s session.

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“In accordance with the Louisiana Constitution and the will of the majority of its members, the Legislature will return to Baton Rouge to consider overriding vetoes made by Gov. Edwards this session. This is democracy in action,” GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, of Gonzales, said in a statement.

Only 12 of 39 senators and 35 of 104 House members returned ballots to avoid the session, falling far short of a majority in either chamber, according to vote tallies released Friday.

The vote followed party lines in the Senate, with Democrats seeking to cancel the session and Republicans in favor of having it. In the House, one Republican, Joe Stagni of Kenner, turned in a ballot to scrap the session while Democrat Francis Thompson of Delhi, the Legislature’s longest-serving member, backed the gathering.

Edwards, in his second term, sought to keep the session from happening. But he couldn’t persuade enough Republican lawmakers to support him and uphold tradition after he rejected 28 bills from the regular session that ended in June and a handful of legislative pet projects from budget bills.

“All of those vetoes were in the state’s interests in my estimation, and I stand by those,” the governor said Friday. “And we’ll see what happens next week.”

Two bill rejections in particular drove interest in an override attempt: a measure banning transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender, and legislation allowing people 21 and older in Louisiana to carry a concealed handgun without needing a permit, safety training and background check.

Republican lawmakers said they were inundated with calls and emails from people supporting the measures, and pressured by outside groups backing the legislation to push for overrides.

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“It has become clear that the majority of senators felt compelled to return for the veto session based on constituent feedback,” Republican Senate President Page Cortez, of Lafayette, said in a statement.

Still, it’s not certain that Republicans will have the two-thirds votes needed in the House and Senate to override Edwards’ decisions on the transgender sports ban by Franklinton Sen. Beth Mizell, the concealed carry bill by Monroe Sen. Jay Morris or any other jettisoned measure.

Lawmakers passed both the sports and gun legislation with bipartisan, veto-proof majorities, but those votes may not hold under pressure from a governor with heavy control over spending on projects in legislative districts and from opponents of the proposals. For example, law enforcement officers are split on the concealed carry bill, putting some Republicans at odds with their local sheriffs and police chiefs.

“At the end of the day, there is a big difference between the majority required to come in and the two-thirds required to actually override,” Edwards said.

Republicans alone don’t have enough votes in the House and will need support from two Democrats or independents to reach the two-thirds hurdle even if the GOP votes as a bloc. Meanwhile, in the Senate, every Republican would have to vote together to get the supermajority vote unless Democrats break ranks with Edwards.

The Senate has one more elected GOP lawmaker than needed for a two-thirds vote, but Lake Charles Republican Sen. Ronnie Johns — traditionally an ally of Edwards — announced he’s skipping the veto session to recover from knee replacement surgery. That has some conservatives accusing Johns of avoiding the session to dodge the politically tricky override votes.

Lawmakers have only overturned two gubernatorial vetoes under the current state constitution, both during regular sessions.

The cost of the veto session isn’t clear. While special sessions range from about $40,000 to $50,000 per day on average, a veto session won’t require the same staffing and hours of work.

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