By Allison Allsop, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE—Gov. John Bel Edwards said he expects to veto three anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed in the legislative session that ended Thursday.
The bills—limiting health care for transgender minors, the use of alternate pronouns and classroom mentions of sexuality—were part of a push by conservative politicians around the country.
“Let’s focus on the real problems,” Edwards said in a post-session news conference. “Let’s don’t pick on very small minorities who have been in comprised of the most vulnerable, fragile children in our state, those most likely to engage in suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. There’s nothing great in that.”
But Edwards, a Democrat, also expressed confusion about why the NAACP had issued a travel advisory for Louisiana, warning people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals that the state may not be safe for them in light of the legislation.
Edwards said that because those bills have not become law yet, he did not understand the need for the NAACP’s action, nor did he support it.
Edwards’ comments came shortly after state lawmakers passed a $45 billion budget package that limited a $2,000 pay increase for teachers to a one-year stipend and included a last-minute cut of $100 million from the proposed allocation for the Louisiana Department of Health.
Those moves came even though legislators had more than $2 billion of revenue at their disposal beyond what had originally been expected to supplement both the current budget and one for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The budget bills had gone through conference committees made up of just a few members of both chambers. The reports listing the final changes were not released until the last hour of the session, angering some lawmakers who had to then vote on the bills quickly.
Edwards said he was blindsided by the $100 million reduction for the Health Department. He said no one reached out to him or his office.
He said he will do everything in his power to lessen the impact of the cut, which also could trigger a loss of related federal funds.
In a separate news conference, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said legislative leaders had not intended to bring the bills at the last minute. He said that was just how it happened. He said staff had worked all night and day to get the bills ready.
In the closing minutes of the session, several lawmakers had expressed frustration with the speaker as he pushed through the votes with little discussion.
“Mr. Speaker, you have to follow the rules of the House,” Rep. Blake Miguez, R-New Iberia, the leader of the House Republican Delegation, shouted. “No one is above the rules of the House, not even yourself.”
Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said the cut in the health budget came because House negotiators had insisted on dedicating more money to reducing state pension debt.
The pay raises for K-12 educators–$2,000 for teachers and $1,000 for support workers—became one-year stipends because many lawmakers did not support other aspects of a spending plan put together by education leaders.
Since legislators refused to pass the larger plan, the raises did not become permanent. Some lawmakers said they would revisit that issue next year.
Congressional redistricting was also a point for Edwards during his news conference.
The U.S. Supreme Court released a decision on an Alabama redistricting case Thursday. The Court decided that Alabama would be required to create a second majority-minority district. Louisiana is facing a similar lawsuit over redistricting maps the Legislature created last year.
A lower court had already ordered Louisiana lawmakers to redraw the maps to include a second majority-minority district, but lawmakers did not do so. The case was put on hold by the Supreme Court until the Alabama case was heard.
Edwards called the Supreme Court ruling—and the likelihood that Louisiana maps will be revisited–a win for the people of Louisiana who believe in simple math and basic fairness.
Senate President Page Cortez maintained, however, that Louisiana’s case was different from what he had read about Alabama’s.
“There’s a lot of legal roads to travel long before we would ever be called back into a special session,” Cortez said.
Edwards said that a special session to redraw the maps may not be called depending on how much patience the court has with the Legislature. A federal district judge had proposed possible new maps last year.
Edwards said that the Legislature had its chance and does not know if it will get another.