Louisiana legislators have never before returned to Baton Rouge to override a governor’s veto and a lot of lawmakers are confused about just how the session that begins noon Tuesday will proceed.
The rules governing procedures and protocols were still being hammered out Monday evening. Meanwhile, the Louisiana GOP organized a rally on the steps of the State Capitol, where rally-goers loudly demanded that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ vetoes be overturned.
Leadership was still working out which bills might be reconsidered, as some rank-and-file Republicans look to try to override Edwards' vetoes on a long list of bills and line-item vetoes. House leaders said Monday they were confident about overriding one bill in particular: legislation to ban transgender athletes from competing in women's and girl's sports.
It's unclear how much the session will cost taxpayers; the Senate estimates maybe $13,800 per day but the cost in the House is not clear.
One thing is sure: 70 representatives need to vote to override and 26 senators must agree before a rejected bill can become law over the governor’s objections. That gives Republicans little room for error in either chamber: 69 House members and 27 Senators agreed to hold the session in the first place, and one of those Senators is not attending due to health reasons.
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Initially, only two bills prompted the veto session: one that bans transgender girls and women from participating in organized girls' and women's sports and another that allows adults to carry concealed weapons without a permit and without the training necessary to get permission.
But Edwards vetoed 28 bills, some before the end of the session, plus the 23 earmarks of legislator projects that Edwards line-itemed vetoed from three fiscal bills. Attorney General Jeff Landry believes all those bills can be considered, he wrote in an opinion at the request of a Republican lawmaker. Democrats, who so far haven’t been privy to the discussions, aren’t so sure that Landry is correct.
Senate Bill 156, the transgender bill, and Senate Bill 118, which allows permitless concealed carry, have attracted the most attention, and have emerged as the two biggest targets of legislative leaders. Some Republican lawmakers also have voiced anger over Edwards’ refusal to allow partisan poll watchers at all 3,934 precincts and booting a bill that limited the use of drop boxes for mail ballots during elections as well as bills that limit the state’s identification of people who don’t get vaccinated, among others.
But leadership wants to avoid a vote-a-thon on vetoed bills that have little chance of being overridden.
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“I haven’t had a big push on any of the other ones. I have had a few members reach out to me about one or two. One was an elections bill and one was a vaccine bill. That was the two I’ve had conversations. But there wasn’t a whole of members that reached out to me,” House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Monday.
“Our job is to not put each other in bad ways, to make bad votes. I think our success comes when we’re together. So, I’ll sit down with those authors, see which bills we have I think are worthy of being able to be pushed across,” he added.
House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee said the House wants to act quickly on any House bills that will see an override attempt; the rules say the bills must lay over until Wednesday unless two-thirds of the House agrees to suspend the rules.
“We're not here to waste people’s time or the people’s money,” said Magee, R-Houma. “I don’t think it’s for every particular legislator to have their own grievance of my bill should have passed.”
House Democratic Minority Leader Sam Jenkins Jr., of Shreveport, said he’s okay with moving quickly, even on Tuesday, with some of the veto reconsiderations. But House Democrats want to know what the rules will be and they haven’t been brought into the Republican majority’s confidence on that score. The House Republican delegation is expected to meet Tuesday morning and the Conservative Caucus was slated to meet Monday evening to discuss the gameplan.
For instance, Jenkins wants to know if there will be limits on wide debate of the bills that already have been discussed in both chambers or if the debate will be limited to the reasons Edwards gave for rejecting the legislation. Also, will leadership limit the vote to one up or down expression of the veto? Or, if following the rules for a normal session, would the sponsor who lost be able to ask for another vote on the veto?
“I know this is new territory,” Jenkins told The Advocate | The Times-Picayune on Monday. “There’s very little in the House rules that talks about the veto session. The rules need to be made clear today or at least the first thing in the morning. … The disagreement in the body now is another reason to hash it out ahead of time.”
“Even staff is wondering which steps to take next because we’ve never had to do this before,” Speaker Schexnayder told reporters Monday during a 16-minute appearance before the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
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Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, will ultimately make the decisions on the protocols for the session, guided by the respective rules for each chamber, which differ slightly.
In the Senate, any member can make a motion to reconsider a bill; in the House, the author has to make that motion, according to Schexnayder. The motion to reconsider requires a majority vote, if taken on Wednesday. Otherwise, under the regular session protocols, the rules need to be suspended first and that requires a two-thirds vote. Then, a motion to pass a bill subsequent to a veto — meaning override it — requires a two-thirds vote.
“I look for us to go in and not have a full-blown debate. I think we go in and discuss the governor’s veto letter, see if it has any merit to it, from there then we would take a vote,” Schexnayder said.
Republican leadership in the House will have to contend with some rank-and-file Republicans who want to take a shot at overriding other legislation besides the two key bills in play during the session.
Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, the chair of the House Conservative Caucus, asked Attorney General Landry to offer a legal opinion on whether the Legislature can take up all 28 bills vetoed by Edwards, or just the ones vetoed after the Legislature adjourned its regular session. He also asked whether the Legislature could override line-item vetoes during a veto session.
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Landry responded in the affirmative: Lawmakers can try to override any of the 28 bills, as well as line-item vetoes. That’s at odds with the opinion of some House staff members who analyzed the law, though Schexnayder confirmed the House will put all 28 bills on the agenda.
Magee said he believes the House will have the votes to override the transgender sports bill veto but noted “this is anything but a certain business.”
Only 69 House members voted to come back to a veto session, meaning Republicans need at least one member to flip from their position on a veto session to support an override. That will likely have to come from one of the 34 Democrats or two non-affiliated members in the House. Rep. Joe Stagni, the only Republican who voted against a veto session, said he won’t vote to override a veto. Rep. Malinda White, one of two no-party lawmakers to vote against a veto session, won’t attend due to health reasons.
In the Senate, Republican Ronnie Johns, of Lake Charles, won’t be attending because of recent surgery, which means every GOP senator will have to vote to override to succeed.
Here are the 28 bills vetoed by the governor and his reasoning:
• House Bill 2: Capital Outlay budget. Using his line-item veto authority, he crossed out projects from the state's construction budget.
• HB26: Severance tax exemption for stripper wells. Vetoed because it addresses important severance tax matters regarding crude oil in a piecemeal fashion.
• HB38: Provides for school board information to be accessible on the Louisiana Fiscal Transparency Website known as Louisiana Checkbook. Vetoed because local school systems do not have the resources or technology to comply with this unfunded mandate.
• HB103: Provides for liability relative to the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations. Vetoed because it is not necessary; it contributes to false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and effective; and it does nothing to protect the health and safety of the public.
• HB138: Provides for a supplemental annual canvass of registered voters. Vetoed because the registrar of voters in every parish is already required to do an annual canvas of all registered voters under current law.
• HB148: Exempts certain educational institutions from state sales and use tax. Vetoed because the bill author did not make a sufficient case of why this state sales tax exemption for the Edwards Via College of Osteopathic Medicine is necessary at this time.
• HB149: Allows for both houses to terminate an emergency declaration. Vetoed because it was the latest attempt by the Legislature to remedy the obvious and adjudged defects in the petition signed by some House of Representatives members last October attempting to terminate the COVID-19 public health emergency and did not sufficiently improve the vetoed bill from last year.
• HB256: Provides relative to payroll deductions for teachers and other school employees for organization dues. Vetoed because it limits the ability of certain school boards to enter into exclusive contracts, thus limiting the ability of those Boards to manage their business in the manner they see fit.
• HB263: Authorizes judges of the City Court of Shreveport to serve as an attorney member of a medical review panel. Vetoed because it would carve out an exception to the prohibition of a judge, magistrate, district attorney, or assistant district attorney being chosen to serve on a medical review panel for purposes of the review required for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
• HB289: Establishes an income and corporate franchise tax credit for Class II and Class III railroads. Vetoed because it creates a new state income and franchise tax credit for qualified railroad track repairs, maintenance, reconstruction, or replacement by Class II and Class III railroads, or short line railroads and only serves to exacerbate the state’s transportation funding dilemma.
• HB295: Provides relative to immovable property in successions. Vetoed because it would eliminate the requirement that a certified copy of a death certificate be attached to the affidavit required to administer a small succession outside of probate.
• HB349: Prohibits requiring vaccination verification or immunity status for certain transactions or for inclusion on a driver's license or special identification card. Vetoed because it contributes to the false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and incredibly effective.
• HB365: Provides relative to the membership of the Louisiana State Racing Commission. Vetoed because it creates an inequitable distribution of net wagers on horse racing purses.
• HB438: Authorizes a custodian to require a requestor of a public record to provide sufficient proof of identity. Vetoed because it could be used to delay responses to public records requests or intimidate members of the public into withdrawing their requests.
• HB498 Prohibits discrimination by government agencies and officials on the basis of vaccination or immunity status. Vetoed because it attempts to undermine the public’s faith in the COVID-19 vaccines and change Louisiana’s approach to vaccine requirements for schools and educational facilities, which has been in place for decades without significant controversy.
• HB562: Provides relative to the Louisiana Uniform Local Sales Tax Board and the Louisiana Sales and Use Tax Commission for Remote Sellers. Vetoed because, among other reasons, it is an infringement on the executive budget process.
• HB571: Provides relative to alcoholic beverage delivery. Vetoed because it could allow alcohol delivery to college campuses, increasing access of alcohol to underage people, and also because it may infringe upon contracts legally signed by some Class B permit holders.
• HB597: Provides relative to prohibition on certain governmental entity contracts with companies that discriminate against firearm and ammunition industries. Vetoed because it would prevent state and local governments from complying with long-standing procurement laws and force them to accept financing at a higher interest rate than would otherwise be available in the market.
• HB698: Provides for state agency partnerships to improve Medicaid administration and program integrity. Vetoed because it risks non-compliance with the Internal Revenue Code, duplicates existing processes and calls for an unfunded mandate.
• HB704: Provides for the appointment of poll waters. Vetoed because it unnecessarily politicizes the election process by inserting the state central committee of certain parties into the poll watching process.
• Senate Bill 43: Provides for the regulation of certain advertisements for legal services. Vetoed because it is likely unconstitutional in that regulation of attorney advertising is handled by the Louisiana Supreme Court and not the legislature. A similar bill was vetoed last year.
• SB63: Requires certain absentee ballots to be delivered to an employee of the registrar of voters. Vetoed because it is unclear where an absentee ballot may be returned if hand delivered. It impedes access to voting, which is too important.
• SB118: Provides relative to the concealed carrying of firearms. Vetoed because the current law as it stands strikes the perfect balance between public safety and ensuring the Second Amendment is upheld and allowing concealed carry without a permit would not be in the interest of public safety.
• SB145: Provides relative to mandatory drug testing, screening, and assessment for drug and specialty court participation for certain offenders. Vetoed because the bill falls short of fulfilling the purpose of providing a dedicated funding stream to enhance access to drug and specialty courts.
• SB156: Requires that schools designate athletic teams according to the biological sex of the team members. Vetoed because it unfairly targets children who are going through unique challenges and offers solutions to an issue that does not exist in Louisiana.
• SB203: Exempts certain groundwater district commissioners from provisions of the Code of Governmental Ethics. Vetoed because it creates a broad future exception to the ethics code for members of the Capital Area Groundwater commission.
• SB220: Provides relative to the legislative auditor examinations, audits, and reviews of elections and retention of election records. Vetoed because this bill possesses separation of powers issues and adds an additional layer of bureaucracy to the elections process.
• SB224: Provides for voter identification information and verification requirements for absentee by mail and early voting ballots. Vetoed because it would make the application to vote absentee by mail more stringent than what is currently required to actually vote absentee by mail.