Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he vetoed campus speech and highway bills and signed a hotly-debated measure to change the name of Louisiana's lone residential high school.
The vetoed bills were promoted as a way to ensure free speech on college campuses – House Bill 269 – and restore voter confidence in state road and bridge spending – House Bill 598.
The third measure, Senate Bill 1, will rename the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches the Jimmy D. Long Sr. Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.
The campus speech legislation would have required management boards for LSU, Southern University and other schools to spell out policies aimed at protecting campus speech, "including without limitation and opinions they (students) find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive." It was sponsored by House Republican Leader Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, a frequent foe of the governor on budget, tax and other issues.
In his veto message, the governor said the legislation is not needed. "This bill is a solution in search of a problem that creates a long, detailed structure for the evaluation of the freedom of expression on college campuses," Edwards said. The governor added that the legislation is needless because free speech is already protect by the U.S. and state constitutions.
Harris said the bill stemmed in part from the shouting down of conservative speakers at the University of California at Berkeley and elsewhere. He said that, while no such incidents have taken place in Louisiana, he has gotten messages from students and faculty members who said new speech protections are needed.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Harris called the veto unfortunate.
"As I said in the debate, freedom of speech is under siege on a lot of college campuses around the country," Harris said. "Really a lot of states have taken pro-active steps to curb idea suppression."
In another area, the governor said he vetoed the highway bill because it would "inappropriately" inject politics into state road and bridge projects.
In that veto message, Edwards noted the bill would allow state lawmakers to add and substitute transportation projects onto the official list compiled by the state Department of Transportation and Development. "This would inappropriately inject politics into a process that should be based on data and needs," he wrote.
The measure was touted as a way to help restore voter confidence in the state Department of Transportation and Development, in part by requiring detailed public reports on the status of road and bridge work.
But the plan came under heavy fire when it won final approval in the state House on the next to last day of the regular legislative session earlier this month.
Despite charges that it will spawn politically driven road and bridge projects, the Louisian…
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, a longtime Edwards ally, blasted the measure because he said it would be a mistake to allow lawmakers to add projects. Under current rules, the House and Senate transportation panels can nullify work authorized by DOTD but cannot add road and bridge plans.
House Bill 598, sponsored by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, would have allowed panel members to do just that.
Abramson, who has clashed with the governor on tax issues, downplayed Jones' concerns.
In a statement Tuesday he said, "This bill was a reform measure to restore confidence with the people of Louisiana in state government's use of existing taxpayer dollars for maintenance and construction of our state roads and bridges by requiring transparency and accountability in that process."
"This effort was supported by regional chambers of commerce and many others from all areas of the state as part of an effort to address the large backlog of state infrastructure projects. It ensured collaboration by all, including the DOTD, and was unanimously passed in the Senate. This veto is disappointing and a huge setback to reform efforts by all of those groups and individuals who have been working towards a transparent solution to the state's enormous infrastructure problems," Abramson said.
The name change measure, Senate Bill 1, sparked unusual and intense controversy.
Long, who died last year, is former chairman of the House Education Committee and played a major role in the creation of the school, which serves about 300 gifted high school students in a college setting.
Alumni and other opponents said the new name would regionalize a school with a growing national reputation. They said Long would be better served by naming the school's new dormitory after him.
Opponents jammed House and Senate committee hearings and flooded lawmakers with messages in a bid to derail the bill.
The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, the second longest serving member of the Legislature and Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, who was Jimmy Long's brother.
The governor also vetoed legislation – House Bill 132 – that would have required the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget to sign off on state expenditures of $50,000 or more.
Edwards called the bill overly burdensome. He said he has directed Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne to continue responding to requests for information from Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget members or other lawmakers.
The sponsor of that measure was Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, who is often at odds with Edwards.