One of the key questions during the special session underway is whether Republican lawmakers can override any of the vetoes issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
So far the answer is no.
“The votes are not there to override the governor,” state Rep. Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, the House Democratic caucus chairman, said in an interview.
State Rep. Blake Miguez, of Erath, the House Republican caucus chairman, did not challenge Jenkins’ view, at least for now.
Any effort to overturn a veto by Edwards would be a high-stakes political battle because it would represent a direct slap at the governor’s power. State legislators have overridden a governor only twice. The last time was 27 years ago.
Governors have an arsenal of favors to award to prevent an override, including the authority to eliminate money for local roads, sewers and parks that lawmakers put into the budget.
The marquee bill vetoed by Edwards would make it harder for auto accident victims and their lawyers to win big settlements or judgments in court. Supporters of Senate Bill 418 said it would lower car insurance rates in Louisiana, which are the second highest in the country. In his veto message, Edwards noted that no insurance company testified on behalf of the legislation and said that SB418 was “neither a compromise nor is it a mandate to decrease rates.”
A second bill vetoed by Edwards would have classified misleading or deceptive advertising as "any communication that states or infers that a person actually received an amount of money that they did not actually receive." Edwards said he believes that Senate Bill 395 is unconstitutional. It would give the Attorney General’s Office the authority to enforce the new law, rather than the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Among the other seven bills, the governor also vetoed legislation that would have required prison for people who crossed often unmarked property lines of “critical infrastructure” during “an emergency.” Environmental activists said House Bill 197 was a back-door attempt to squelch protests at refineries, pipelines and other oil and gas facilities.
To override the governor, Republicans need a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate.
There are 27 Republicans in the Senate, which is one more than needed to reach the two-thirds mark in that chamber.
The House is a bigger hurdle because Republicans hold only 67 seats, and a veto override requires at least 70 votes.
To override Edwards, the Republicans would need all of their 67 votes plus at least one Democrat and the two independents, or up to three Democrats if they can’t win over either of the House’s two independents. There are 35 Democrats.
“We have enough commitments from our Democratic delegation and also from some of the Republican delegation that they would not like to override the governor’s vetoes,” Jenkins said.
State Rep. Roy Daryl Adams, an independent from Jackson, said he would not override any of the nine bills.
State Rep. Joe Marino, an independent from Gretna, said Republicans have not attempted to secure his vote for an override and said he hadn’t made commitments to either side.
Miguez said that as an alternative to an override attempt, Republicans are advancing several revised versions of SB418, which he and other supporters call tort reform.
“The idea that the governor cannot be overridden is not set in stone,” he said. “The governor should not get comfortable. An override on the right piece of important legislation is strong possibility from this Legislature.”