BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday struck down a bill prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on girls’ sports teams in Louisiana schools, pushing back against legislation that has passed several Southern states.
The veto from the Deep South’s only Democratic governor was expected, since Edwards called the measure discriminatory.
“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” the governor said in a statement. “Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue” in Louisiana.
Backers of the measure said they were trying to protect female athletes from unfair competition and preserve equality for women’s sports across K-12 schools and colleges. The proposal by Franklinton Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, passed with bipartisan veto-proof margins: a 29-6 vote in the Senate and a 78-19 vote in the House.
Still, it’s unclear if enough lawmakers would hold together to call for a special veto session to try to override the governor’s rejection. The regular legislative session is over, and Louisiana has never held a veto override session under the current constitution adopted in 1974.
Mizell didn’t immediately return a call for comment Tuesday about the veto and whether she’d seek an override effort.
The legislation was similar to bans passed by Republican-led legislatures in several states. Idaho was the first state to approve such a bill, and it’s been followed by others including Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Proponents in Louisiana pointed to the state of Connecticut, where they said two transgender females participating in women’s track events broke 15 records. They suggested transgender athletes have an automatic, built-in advantage in competitions against other females.
“Nobody wants to treat anyone with inequity, but there is not an equal situation physically,” Mizell said during legislative debate on the bill.
Though the ban would have kept both transgender girls and boys from competing on teams of their identified gender, nearly all the discussion centered on female sports. Mizell named the bill the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.”
She pushed back against arguments that the law was unnecessary in Louisiana because no specific examples could be located in the state. She told colleagues: “I don’t know why we’d want to wait until the state is in a lawsuit with a school or a family.”
Opponents said the ban would discriminate against people who already are marginalized and suggested Louisiana could lose businesses and events that refuse to locate in places that have enacted such laws.
Edwards cited similar concerns. He said the bill “would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health.”
“We should be looking for more ways to unite, rather than divide our citizens,” he said.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has enacted the equivalent of a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams in the state. The organization requires student athletes to compete “in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment.”