Thursday, May 30, 2024

Louisiana lawmakers say vetoes will likely bring them back to Baton Rouge

by BIZ Magazine

By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

Lawmakers in the Louisiana House and Senate anticipate a return to Baton Rouge later this month for a veto override session, citing recent comments from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Edwards signaled his intent to veto legislation he characterized as attacks on the LGBTQ and transgender communities during an end-of-session press conference last week.

The legislation includes bills to prohibit the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools, require parental approval for schools to use transgender students’ preferred names or pronouns, and a ban on sex change drugs and surgeries for minors.

“I think there’s going to be an interest (in an override session) if the governor does veto those bills,” Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said in PAR Louisiana webinar on Tuesday.

Sen. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, noted that some bills passed both chambers by wide margins.

“I would be surprised if we’re not back,” he said.

The veto override session is automatically scheduled once the governor rejects legislation, and all vetoes and line item vetoes are considered unless a majority of members in either chamber vote to skip the session.

“I’m hoping the governor will veto the bills and if they’re overridden, so be it,” said Sen. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport. “From our perspective, Louisiana has to become more tolerant … of people of all races and sexual orientations.”

The lawmakers noted it’s also likely Edwards could use line-item vetoes to restore $100 million cut from the governor’s requested funding for the Louisiana Department of Health as part of a budget compromise between the chambers last week.

Despite the cut, LDH’s $15 billion budget was still increased by $144 million. The reduction, Zeringue said, was based in part on an accelerated timeline for Medicaid redeterminations.

Lawmakers approved a total of $51 million in spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1 in a last-minute vote on Thursday as the Legislature devolved into chaos over compromises between the House and Senate devised by a six-member conference committee.

Many lawmakers were not aware of the $100 million cut to LDH, and many were forced to vote before fully vetting the legislation, they complained. The budget finale followed a vote to increase the state’s spending cap that was opposed by fiscal conservatives and a coalition of Louisiana organizations that would have preferred to invest more in paying down unfunded pension liabilities and funding the Rainy Day Fund. Those investments would have moved the state toward triggers to reduce taxes on residents and businesses.

Zeringue noted that $689 million was devoted to unfunded pension liabilities in the final budget, including $300 million in recurring revenues spent on one-time expenses.

That “$300 million will be available next year … and this will go a long way to continue the fiscally responsible approach to budgeting,” he said.

Zeringue blamed much of the last-minute budget chaos on a flood of about 1,000 amendments that were incorporated in the waning hours but acknowledged “we need to do a better job” in the future.

Henry said another contributing factor was “Senate leadership didn’t share with the members what the negotiations were with the House.”

“This year, for whatever reason, it was kept close to the vest,” he said. “We had limited access to the information.”

“I anticipate having some rule changes … to allow a committee report to lay over for some period of time,” Henry said.

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