Louisiana lawmakers consider holding veto override session

Louisiana

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, standing at the right, looks over the House chamber after speaking with staff at his desk on the last day of the legislative session, Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards’ rejection of legislation banning transgender athletes from participating on school sports teams is spurring talk that Republican lawmakers may try to hold Louisiana’s first veto session under the decades-old constitution.

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder announced Tuesday night that he wants such a mid-July session, giving the possibility of the historic gathering some momentum. But GOP Senate President Page Cortez hasn’t taken a public position, which could put the chances in doubt.

It only takes a majority written vote of lawmakers in either the House or Senate to scrap a veto session in Louisiana. Plus, it’s unclear if lawmakers could hold the bipartisan coalition of votes together that would be needed to overturn the Democratic governor’s spurning of the transgender sports ban bill if the veto session were held.

Edwards announced Tuesday that he struck down Franklinton Republican Sen. Beth Mizell’s bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender, a measure that has been passed in several conservative states.

“Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto announcement.

Mizell and bill supporters said they were trying to protect female athletes from unfair competition. Hours after the governor’s veto announcement, Schexnayder released a statement saying he was “in favor of overriding the governor’s veto of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”

Other Republicans are pushing for a veto session because Edwards is expected to reject a bill that would allow people 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

But Senate leaders haven’t said where they stand on the idea. Cortez didn’t respond Wednesday to a call from The Associated Press about the possibility of a veto session.

Schexnayder noted that holding such a session “requires the majority of members of the House and Senate to be in agreement.”

Under Louisiana’s constitution, a veto session is automatically scheduled when a governor jettisons legislation. However, a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering.

Lawmakers have never held a veto session since the current Louisiana Constitution was adopted in 1974 — despite repeated talk over the years about the possibility of doing so as governors have irritated them with rejected budget items, tax proposals and other favored legislation.

Still, legislators routinely turn in enough written ballots each year to avoid holding the session. They cite the expense, their uninterest in returning to the Louisiana Capitol and the difficulty to get two-thirds of lawmakers to vote to override a gubernatorial veto.

The Louisiana Legislature has overturned only two vetoes in modern history. Both of those 1990s-era override votes were taken while lawmakers were still in regular session, not in a special veto session.

While Mizell’s transgender sports ban bill passed with bipartisan veto-proof margins in both chambers, it’s unclear if Republicans could get the support needed from independents or Democrats to override Edwards’ veto. If GOP lawmakers vote as a bloc, they are two votes short of the two-thirds vote needed in the House.

If a veto override session were held this year, it would begin July 20 and could last through July 24.

The conservative Louisiana Family Forum is urging lawmakers to hold the session because of Edwards’ rejection of the transgender sports ban legislation.

Gene Mills, president of the Christian organization, said in a statement that Edwards “decided to allow the radical politics of a few to take precedent over scientific reality and objective truth which transcends politics. I am hopeful that the Legislature will correct this unforced error in judgment.”

Before he was governor, Edwards was unsuccessful in his own bid for a veto override gathering.

As chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Edwards tried to persuade his colleagues in 2013 to hold a veto session to consider overturning Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s line-item budget vetoes.

Senators that year scrapped the veto session.

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