Ronnie Johns

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles

Already historic, the much-anticipated veto override session became even more dramatic Tuesday upon news that a Lake Charles Republican senator wouldn’t be attending.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, 71, said he received a full knee replacement surgery on July 7, after the procedure was delayed in 2020 because of the pandemic, hurricanes and legislative sessions. Postponing surgery again wasn't an option, he said. His doctor has ordered him not to travel for a minimum of four weeks, preventing Johns from participating in the veto session. Johns informed Senate President Page Cortez that he will miss the session — if one is called later this week.

“This decision to not participate in the veto session is one of the hardest I’ve made in my 22 years of service to our state,” Johns said. “I take my legislative responsibilities very seriously but my health and well-being must be my first responsibility to my family and myself. The overwhelming response from Senate colleagues and local supporters who I have confided in are in total agreement with this.”

Theoretically, a veto override session is automatic unless a majority of the state representatives and state senators — 53 in the House, 20 in the Senate — send in ballots saying it's unnecessary. Those ballots are due at midnight Thursday, and the Senate and House staff are expected to tabulate them Friday.

If a majority don’t return a ballot, a veto session will begin July 20 and adjourn by July 24.

A veto override session hasn’t happened since the new state constitution was passed 47 years ago in 1974. And the numbers are tight for Republican lawmakers to actually turn one of the 28 bills rejected by the Democratic governor into law.

Two-thirds of both chambers need to agree. Republicans hold 27 of the 39 seats in the Senate and need 26 votes to override. Republicans have 68 of the 105 seats in the House but need 70 votes.

For Edwards, a member missing is as good as a "no" vote on overriding a veto.

“In the House, it will take an independent or a Democrat or two to join in to override any bill,” House Majority Leader Blake Miguez, a Republican from Erath, said Tuesday. “So, it’s going to take the speaker’s influence. And the president is going to have to make sure that all of his senators stick. If the president and the speaker are willing to use some of their political influence and their power, they can get the votes needed to override the governor on some bills.”

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Both Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, have issued statements voicing their disappointment after Edwards vetoed legislation to prevent transgender athletes from competing in girls and women’s sports. Leaders have also complained about Edwards' rejection of another bill to remove permit requirements to carry concealed guns.

About 450 pastors around the state have signed a petition asking legislators to override Edwards on the transgender bill. Nearly every sheriff in the state, along with a number of police chiefs and other law enforcement have asked legislators to sustain the governor’s rejection of the conceal carry bill. They were joined Tuesday by mayors from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport and elsewhere.

“Louisiana is the sportsman’s paradise and nothing will change that but eliminating the requirement for citizens to be trained in firearms handling and obtain permits and receive training to carry concealed weapons puts the people we represent in danger,” the mayors said in a joint statement.

Any one of the 28 vetoes are open for an override attempt.

Miguez told East Baton Rouge Parish Republicans gathered for lunch Tuesday that he thinks efforts will be made to overturn the governor’s decisions on election-related measures and instruments about COVID-19 vaccinations.

“There’s an appetite for votes on all bills,” including earmarks for legislators’ projects that Edwards crossed out of the money bills, Miguez said. The chief sponsors of the vetoed instruments would have to personally ask for reconsideration.

Johns has three major casinos in his district near the Texas border and is in the running to be the next chair of the Gaming Control Board, a position appointed by the governor. Johns said Tuesday that no appointment has been made.

The previous chair, Mike Noel, stepped down last month on the same day he was likely to face questions from a legislative committee about actions he took as State Police commander in 2019 after the brutal death of Ronald Greene at the hands of state troopers.

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