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Louisiana Senate Votes To Override Gov. Edwards’ Veto Of Transgender Sports Ban, Sustains Veto Of

 Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), author of a bill to ban transgender girls from school athletic competitions, speaks at a rally hosted by the Louisiana GOP ahead of a historic veto override session. July 19, 2021.
Paul Braun
Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), author of a bill to ban transgender girls from school athletic competitions, speaks at a rally hosted by the Louisiana GOP ahead of a historic veto override session. July 19, 2021.

In a strict party-line vote, Republican state senators voted Tuesday to override Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of legislation to ban transgender girls from school sports.

For the first time in Louisiana history, state lawmakers convened a special veto session to hold the override vote. The measure cleared the Senate by a 26-12 vote — the exact number of votes required to override a veto.

Another effort to override Edwards’ veto of a bill that would remove the state’s permitting and training requirements to carry a concealed firearm failed, falling three votes shy of the 26 needed.

The proposed ban of transgender girls from school sports, dubbed the Fairness In Women’s Sports Act by it’s supporters, is the centerpiece of Republican legislative leaders’ agenda for this historic veto session. The bill is modeled after similar legislation recently passed by other Republican-controlled state legislatures.

The bill’s author, Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton), urged her fellow senators to advance the veto override process and “not be led by a carrot or a stick but by your own conscience.” The carrot: an opportunity for Republican lawmakers to curry favor with a Democratic governor. The stick: possibility of a boycott by the NCAA and corporations seeking to punish states that enact laws that discriminate against transgender children.

“Without protection, women’s sports would not exist,” Mizell said. “I ask you to do what is right for the girls of Louisiana and to put the politics aside on this.”

Sen. Jay Luneau, echoing Edwards’ veto message, said the legislation was a solution to a problem that does not exist in Louisiana. Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules already prohibit transgender student athletes from competing unless they have completed sexual reassignment surgery. But performing such a surgery on a minor would be considered malpractice by state medical standards, Luneau said.

In tandem, the two policies effectively ban all transgender high school students from participating in school sports.

“That is a stringent test, with high hurdles to overcome,” Luneau said. “In fact, they may be impossible hurdles to overcome in the high school setting.”

Republican sponsors of the legislation previously acknowledged that there were not aware of any instances in which transgender girls competed in Louisiana school sports.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) said forcing the transgender sports ban into Louisiana law would have negative economic consequences for the state. After other state legislatures passed similar bills, a coalition of 400 businesses issued a statement saying they condemned the actions and would consider

The NCAA, which has previously committed to hosting the 2022 Men’s College Basketball Final Four in New Orleans, has said it would pull highly-coveted competitions from states that promoted discriminatory practices.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Peterson said. “You either want businesses to come to Louisiana or you can discriminate.”

The bill’s supporters were undeterred.

“It’s always about money, but what about our morals — our good and decent morals,” Sen. Mike Fesi (R-Houma) asked, prompting applause from the packed Senate chamber. “Men, no matter what they do to their body, still have the ability to beat a woman in sports.”

“I consider threats from the NCAA as nothing less than extortion,” Mizell said. “The things that Louisianans believe in should not be held hostage by a sporting event.”

Now that it has cleared the Senate, the legislation — SB 156 — heads to the House of Representatives. House rules require the bill to be read into the record and held over for one day before it can be brought up for a vote.

The House and Senate galleries were both packed with onlookers and reporters, even though the lower chamber held no votes. Minutes after the session began, a trio of transgender advocates were forcibly removed from the House balcony after unfurling a banner protesting the effort to override Edwards’ veto of SB 156.

Republicans hold 68 seats in the House of Representatives. They need 70 “yea” votes to override Edwards’ veto of SB 156.

Joe Stagni (R-Kenner) was the only Republican House member to vote against holding the veto override session and has indicated that he would not vote to override Edwards’ vetoes — meaning Republican legislative leaders need to corral three votes from the 33 members of the House Democratic Caucus and the three House members with no party affiliation.

Rep. Malinda White, who switched her party affiliation from Democrat to “No Party” following the 2021 Regular Session, told House leaders that she would not attend the veto session for medical reasons. On Tuesday, Rep. Joe Marino (I-Gretna) also requested leave because of “previously scheduled family obligations.”

White voted in favor of Mizell’s SB 156 during the regular session. Marino voted against it. Their absences during the veto session are effectively two votes against the override.

A handful of Democratic House members voted for the bill on it’s first trip through the legislature, but Gov. John Bel Edwards and his allies have put immense pressure on the House Democratic Caucus to oppose the bill.

Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi, the oldest member of the Louisiana Legislature, was the only Democrat to vote in favor of holding the veto override session, making him a ripe target for Republicans hoping to secure enough votes for a successful override.

The Senate also brought up SB 118 — Sen. Jay Morris’ bill to allow permitless carry of concealed firearms. Morris and the gun owner rights groups called it the constitutional carry bill. It was the second-most discussed bill -- after Mizell’s transgender sports ban, of course.

It fell three votes short of the mark needed for a veto override. Three Republican senators voted against overriding the bill — Sen. Louie Bernard of Natchitoches, Patrick Connick of Marrero, and Franklin Foil of Baton Rouge.

Bernard participated in the debate on the Senate floor, saying he opposed the bill because his hometown law enforcement agencies saw permitless carry as a risk to public safety.

The Senate also failed to override vetoes on bills to change the composition of the State’s Groundwater Commission and to tweak election oversight requirements.

Each of the bills considered Tuesday previously passed the Senate with bipartisan support and SB 224 was approved unanimously when it first cleared the Senate in May. But the Democrats’ support of those measures evaporated under the harsh spotlight of the veto session and the pressure of Gov. Edwards.

Three vetoed Senate bills were read into the record and later returned to the calendar without a vote. They could be considered later this week.

Copyright 2021 WRKF. To see more, visit WRKF.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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