By William Patrick | The Center Square
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards offered conciliatory remarks after legislative leaders adjourned a historic veto override session without a single veto reversed.
Edwards thanked Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, and Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, for their allied support, and said he was asked moments earlier in an interview whether he was glad none of his vetoes were overturned.
“That’s the silliest question I’ve ever heard,” Edwards said Wednesday after the session ended. “No governor ever wants to have a veto overridden. No governor wants to have a veto override session.
“The vetoes that I issued, I believe, and believe today, were in the state’s best interest,” he said.
Edwards vetoed 28 bills from the 2021 regular legislative session, but lawmakers opted to return to Baton Rouge this week, pursuant to a routine process that had not been utilized in nearly half a century.
Override sessions are automatic in Louisiana but have been cancelled every year since the state constitution was modernized in 1974. That changed when the Republican-dominated Legislature chose to challenge Edwards’ vetoes by a simple majority vote.
“Many of you in the media put the term ‘historic’ on it, and I guess it was. It was the first time since the current constitution has been in place that this has happened,” Edwards said. “But at the end of the day, the Legislature got it right.
“When I was elected, I vowed to put people over politics. Today, the Legislature chose to do the same, and Louisiana is better for it,” Edwards said, before pivoting to “the folks who wanted the session.”
“Quite frankly, you don’t put people first if you pursue bills to prohibit that which isn’t happening,” Edwards said.
The reference was to Senate Bill 156, known as the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act. The legislation was a controversial transgender sports ban that would have prohibited students from competing on teams that differ from their assigned gender at birth.
It also was the GOP’s best opportunity for a veto override, as the measure passed overwhelmingly during the regular session with bipartisan support and 50 co-sponsors.
Edwards rejected the would-be law, saying it “unfairly discriminated against transgender youth.”
He echoed the bill was unnecessary during his Wednesday evening remarks.
“Not a single proponent of the bill could point to a single instance in the history of the state of Louisiana where the alleged unfair competitive advantage was conferred upon someone who they are trying to prevent,” Edwards said. “If there is not a problem to prevent, why would you take the slightest risk?”
Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Jefferson, attempted to counter that oft repeated view during this week’s House deliberations, calling it a “forward-thinking” proposal similar to many other legislative priorities.
It wasn’t persuasive. Two-thirds majorities were needed in both chambers – 26 votes in the Senate and 70 votes in the House. After passing the Senate with the minimum support needed, the SB156 veto override fell two members short in the House, 68-30.
With the GOP’s highest probability effort dashed, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, determined they lacked the votes to proceed and moved to adjourn.
Schexnayder issued a statement after the defeat.
“While I am frustrated by the result, I am encouraged by the fact that we did something that has never been done in this state in asserting our legislative independence. Veto sessions should be the norm from now on as Louisiana’s constitution instructs. We have separate and equal branches of government for a reason,” he said. “We will bring this bill back next year and will not stop fighting.”
Each of Edwards’ 28 vetoes pertained to legislation that passed the state lawmaking body this year, which included bills dealing with concealed carry firearms, education funding transparency, COVID-19 vaccine passports and voter identification.
Edwards said the attempt to override his transgender sports ban veto was “fueled by passion and not by reason.” He said the supporters of the bill were good people who mean well.
Edwards also vowed to work with legislative leaders for the next two and a half years of his current term.