Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have barred transgender girls and women from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity, calling the proposal discriminatory and a "solution in search of a problem that does not exist in Louisiana."
Senate Bill 156, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, would have required athletic teams or sporting events for women at public institutions be composed only of "biological females," or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.
The measure won Senate approval 29-6 and cleared the House 78-19. Those margins are wide enough to override a governor's veto, though the Legislature has never in its history called itself back to Baton Rouge for a special veto override session.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Gonzales Republican, said in a statement Tuesday that he supports calling a special session to override Edwards' veto. To occur, a majority of members of both chambers would have to agree to return.
Edwards repeatedly said throughout the two-month legislative session that he intended to veto the so-called "Fairness in Women's Sports Act," which mirrored a slew of proposals targeting transgender youth introduced in recent months by Republican state lawmakers across the country.
The Democratic governor in his veto message said the legislation "would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to mental health."
He added: "We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens."
Dylan Waguespack, board president of Louisiana Trans Advocates, praised Edwards in a statement for nixing legislation that "sought to empower discrimination against transgender youth."
"Like all students, transgender kids deserve the same chances to learn teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, and self-discipline, and to build a sense of belonging with their peers," Waguespack said. "Gov. Edwards sent a strong message to the trans youth who were consistently attacked in this legislative session that he’s their governor too."
Waguespack added that opportunities for transgender students to participate in sports are already limited. That's because the Louisiana High School Athletics Association's rules require transgender athletes undergo drastic medical interventions, like sex reassignment surgery, that aren't typically recommended for minors.
Though the ban would have kept both transgender girls and boys from playing on teams of their identified gender, nearly all of the discussion centered on female athletes.
Mizell said the legislation was aimed at maintaining a fair playing field in women's sports, arguing that transgender girls are born bigger and faster, and therefore have an unfair advantage in competition.
Throughout the legislative session, Mizell's colleagues repeatedly pressed her for an example in which transgender participation in sports had caused a problem in Louisiana. Unable to come up with an answer, she instead called the measure proactive.
In his veto message Tuesday, Edwards seized on that response.
"Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue," the governor wrote.