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Edwards vetoes anti-vaccine bills in final action on session

Louisiana

Gov. John Bel Edwards. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Touting the life-saving benefits of the coronavirus vaccine, Gov. John Bel Edwards on Friday vetoed three Republican-sponsored bills striking at vaccine mandates in Louisiana, among two dozen measures the Democratic governor announced he rejected as he completed his bill review.

In his veto message, Edwards wrote that the anti-vaccine mandate bills “contribute to the false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and incredibly effective.”

Already, lawmakers seemed poised to call themselves into the first-ever veto override session under the modern constitution because of previously announced vetoes of bills banning transgender youth on school sports teams and removing the permit requirements to carry a concealed handgun.

The governor’s list of 28 total jettisoned bills — along with 11 legislative pet projects struck from the state construction budget with his line-item veto — gives lawmakers more reasons they might want to return for a veto session that could begin July 20.

Edwards signed 477 bills into law from the regular session that ended in June. All measures that reached his desk were either signed or vetoed; none will take effect without his signature.

Rejection of the coronavirus-related legislation was not a surprise. Edwards has championed the vaccine and regularly encourages his state’s residents to get the shot.

The most sweeping measure rejected would have prohibited government agencies from refusing to issue licenses, permits and degrees or barring access to public facilities to someone who is not vaccinated against COVID-19. The ban by Rep. Kathy Edmonston, a Gonzales Republican, would have remained in place until the vaccination has full authorization from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration, rather than an emergency use regulation.

Also shelved by Edwards was a measure by Republican Rep. Danny McCormick, of Oil City, that would have given employers an exemption from civil lawsuits if they did not require workers or customers to get the vaccine and someone contracts the COVID-19 disease.

“The manufacturers of those vaccines can’t be held liable, why should you or local businesses be held liable if they refuse to require the vaccine?” McCormick said in a statement. “As (the bill) passed the House and Senate with more than enough votes, the Louisiana Legislature agreed that your body is your private property, and you should not be forced to inject something into it.”

Another vetoed Edmonston bill would have kept the state Office of Motor Vehicles from requiring someone to be vaccinated to get a driver’s license or state-issued identification cards or to put immunization information on that license or ID card. It would cover all vaccinations, not just the coronavirus vaccine.

Edmonston’s legislation was unnecessary to achieve her goal. An Office of Motor Vehicles leader told lawmakers the agency can’t add anything to the license or a state-issued ID card or add requirements for getting one without lawmakers authorizing it.

The governor also jettisoned a bill seeking to give lawmakers more authority over his emergency authority, similar to a measure he scrapped last year. Among other vetoes announced Friday, Edwards rejected measures that would have:

—Required regular audits of elections by the legislative auditor, allowed political parties to designate their own poll watchers and slightly tightened voter identification requirements for absentee ballots. “We should strive to make access to voting easier for voters, not create barriers,” the governor wrote in one veto message.

—Expanded Louisiana’s specialized drug courts using the proceeds from opioid-related lawsuits. The bill won unanimous support and was championed by Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. Edwards raised a host of concerns about the logistics and said while the goal was “a worthwhile cause, this bill falls woefully short of accomplishing the intended purpose.”

—Required local school systems to publish their finances in the Louisiana Checkbook online site that documents how state agencies spend their money. The governor said school systems do not have the resources or technology to comply with the mandate.

—Rewritten alcohol delivery laws to allow more third-party deliveries. Among his criticisms, Edwards said he was concerned the bill would have authorized alcohol delivery to fraternity and sorority houses on college campuses and increase the possibility of underage drinking by students.

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

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