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Louisiana heads into historic veto session with uncertainty

July 19, 2021 GMT
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Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, speaks to the Press Club of Baton Rouge ahead of the start of an historic veto override session, on Monday, July 19, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)
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Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, speaks to the Press Club of Baton Rouge ahead of the start of an historic veto override session, on Monday, July 19, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ahead of the opening of an unprecedented veto override session, Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Monday he’s “comfortable 100%” that his chamber has the votes to overturn Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of a bill to ban transgender girls from school sports.

But Schexnayder hedged on whether he was certain he and other House Republicans who pushed for the session would have enough support for veto overrides on any of the other 27 bills the Democratic governor jettisoned.

Schexnayder was not personally trying to drum up override votes for any of the measures in the session that starts Tuesday and can last until Saturday. Overturning a veto takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate.

“As far as me going out and actually whipping up votes, I haven’t done that in the past, and that’s not how I work and operate,” the Gonzales Republican said in a brief appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “I will have my meetings with each delegation and caucus and sit down and figure out our strongest path forward.”

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Republicans 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. In the Senate, every Republican would have to vote together to get the supermajority vote unless Democrats break ranks with Edwards.

The state Republican Party held a Monday evening rally on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol trying to solidify GOP votes to overturn Edwards’ bill rejections.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders and their staff were trying to work out the details of how the historic session would operate. After all, they’ve never had one over the last five decades since the current state constitution was enacted in 1974.

“Even staff is wondering what steps to take next because we’ve never had to do this before. It’s something new that I think is going to be huge for our state,” Schexnayder said. “I think it will be a respectable debate on the bills and the issues that come up.”

The constitution calls for a veto session to be scheduled automatically when a governor jettisons legislation. But a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering, which lawmakers had done annually. The Republican-led House and Senate refused to cancel this time.

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.

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Schexnayder, who rarely talks to reporters and cut his Monday appearance at the hour-long luncheon to 20 minutes, said he hasn’t “had a big push” from House members on any of the other vetoed measures. He said a few lawmakers expressed interest in trying to overturn Edwards’ spurning of bills striking at coronavirus vaccine mandates and tweaking state voting laws.

Republican lawmakers said they were inundated with calls and emails from people supporting the concealed carry and transgender sports ban measures.

At a small, rainy rally, House GOP leader Blake Miguez told supporters of the veto session: “Know what the problem here in Louisiana is? The governor that’s standing in the way.”

Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry accused Edwards of “playing politics” with his vetoes and backing a “Washington agenda.”

In an email to supporters, the conservative Christian organization Louisiana Family Forum said it had signatures of support from more than 500 pastors across the state calling on lawmakers to overturn Edwards’ veto of the transgender sports ban legislation sponsored by Franklinton GOP Sen. Beth Mizell.

Gun rights lobbying organizations such as the NRA were pushing hard for an override of the governor’s scrapping of Monroe Republican Sen. Jay Morris’ bill to remove the restrictions on concealed handguns.

But organizations opposing the bills also were trying to sway opinions and hoping to keep Democrats and independents from backing the override votes.

The left-leaning organization Louisiana Progress said in an email to its followers that Republican lawmakers were avoiding the real problems facing Louisiana to instead fight “over culture-war issues that are driven by national media narratives.”

The Edwards administration also was pushing back, trying to win over enough individual lawmakers to block the overrides. The governor has heavy sway over spending on projects, appointments to boards and commissions and other points of leverage.

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