Outside groups exerting pressure on Louisiana veto 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) — Ballots have gone out for Louisiana lawmakers to decide whether to hold an historic veto override session, with heavy pressure pouring in from outside groups trying to sway that decision and a heated debate taking shape on social media.

Gov. John Bel Edwards rejected 28 bills from the regular session and struck out a handful of legislative pet projects from budget bills. The Louisiana Constitution calls for a veto session to be automatically scheduled when a governor jettisons legislation.

However, a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering — a decision that often is an afterthought for lawmakers who have canceled every veto session since the modern constitution was enacted in 1974.

But this time appears different, with two bills in particular drawing interest for a mid-July veto session from the majority-Republican House and Senate: 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.

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said he supports the veto session, as does House GOP leader Blake Miguez. Republican Senate President Page Cortez said he believes enough senators want such a gathering as well — making the likelihood of a session aimed at overturning the Democratic governor’s bill rejections seem all but certain.

“I don’t see how we could avoid one,” said Houma Rep. Tanner Magee, the House’s second-ranking Republican.

Senate GOP leader Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, said she supports the session because Edwards rejected the transgender sports ban, concealed carry bill and voting-related measures that would have required regular audits of elections, allowed political parties to designate their own poll watchers and tightened voter ID requirements for absentee ballots.

“These bills are clear conservative priorities that enjoy overwhelming public support, and I will be voting to return for a historic veto override session to keep moving these critical issues forward,” Hewitt said in a statement.

Ballots determining whether a veto session will be held are due July 15. If neither chamber sees a majority of its members turn in the paperwork to cancel the gathering, the session will begin July 20 and could run through July 24.

Despite the seeming majority support from Republicans in each chamber, outside organizations are lobbying their positions.

The state Republican Party and the Christian conservative organization Louisiana Family Forum are urging supporters to call on lawmakers to hold the veto session. The state Democratic Party is telling people to call legislators and ask them to oppose the gathering, while an outside group set up to back Edwards’ agenda is sending out emails and posting on social media against the session.

“Why are we talking about wasting tax payer $$ on culture war issues when we have real problems to solve?” the organization Louisiana Progress Action posted on Twitter in objection to the veto session.

Lawmakers also are making their positions known online.

Rep. Danny McCormick, a Republican from Oil City, has created a website saying Edwards has “acted like a tyrant and a bully” and pushing a veto override session.

Meanwhile, New Orleans Democratic Rep. Royce Duplessis posted a video on Twitter documenting his signature on paperwork saying he doesn’t support a veto session. Democratic Rep. Kyle Green, of Marrero, said on Twitter that he sent in his ballot declaring that a “veto override session is not necessary.”

Even if lawmakers call themselves back in for the veto session, it remains unclear whether they’ll reach the two-thirds support needed to override an Edwards bill rejection. If Republicans vote as a bloc in the House and Senate — a far from certain outcome — they remain two members short of a two-thirds vote in the House.

Also unclear is the price tag for a veto session. While special session costs range from about $40,000 to $50,000 per day on average, a veto session wouldn’t necessarily require the same staffing and hours of work.

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