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Republicans Pull The Plug On Veto Session After Failing To Overturn Gov. Edwards Rejection Of Transgender Sports Ban

 State legislators are expected to reconvene later this month to push through several bills that Gov. Edwards vetoed after the last legislative session. Photo from September 2020.
Paul Braun
State legislators are expected to reconvene later this month to push through several bills that Gov. Edwards vetoed after the last legislative session. Photo from September 2020.

Louisiana state lawmakers cut short the state’s first ever veto session Wednesday after the Louisiana House of Representatives failed to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of legislation that would have banned transgender girls from school athletic competitions.

The measure failed on a 68-30 vote, falling two votes short of the 70 needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

After the effort failed, and it was apparent that Republican legislative leaders could not marshall the votes needed to override any of Edwards’ vetoes, Louisiana lawmakers decided to end the session four days ahead of schedule.

The proposed transgender sports ban was the driving force behind Republican legislators push to hold the first veto session in state history. The legislation — dubbed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” by its supporters — was modeled after similar laws enacted in Idaho, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida.

Republican legislative leaders had hoped the historic veto session would usher in a new era of legislative independence in Louisiana politics. Instead, they will go home empty handed.

Edwards, who first voiced his opposition to the bill in April, celebrated Wednesday’s result. He called the proposed ban “mean” for targeting some of the state’s “most emotionally fragile individuals.”

“Louisiana did what was right and best,” Edwards said. “We rejected a play out of the national playbook that just had no place in Louisiana.”

Edwards pointed out that the Republican sponsors of the legislation could not identify a single instance in which transgender student athletes participated in Louisiana high school sports, and questioned why Republican lawmakers would push legislation that has prompted corporate and NCAA boycotts in other states.

“If there’s no problem to correct, why would you even take the slightest risk of harming your economy coming out of a pandemic,” Edwards said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Edwards’ ability to fend off this override effort means his veto pen will be a viable tool for his remaining time in office, including during next year’s redistricting session where state lawmakers will redraw the boundaries of the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, among others.

But his efforts to undercut Republican legislative leaders is likely to deepen the partisan divide in Louisiana.

Louis Gurvich, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, said Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez should immediately remove all Democratic committee chairs and replace them

For his part, Edwards made a brief appeal for a return to bipartisan cooperation, even with those lawmakers that called for the veto override session.

“They’re still Louisianans, they’re still legislators and they’re still people that I intend to work with to move Louisiana forward over the next two and a half years.”

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder told reporters Monday that he was “comfortable 100 percent” he would have the votes needed to override the transgender sports bill. But Schexnayder was unable to earn enough bipartisan support to override the veto.

Following Wednesday’s early adjournment, Schexnayder said in a written statement that he was frustrated by the result but proud to have asserted the legislature’s independence.

“Veto sessions should be the norm from now on as Louisiana’s constitution instructs,” We have separate and equal branches of government for a reason.”

He vowed to bring back the failed transgender sports ban next year.

Republicans hold only 68 of the 105 seats in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Rep. Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) was the only Democrat to cross party lines to vote for the veto override. Republican Rep. Joe Stagni of Kenner joined Democrats in voting against the override effort.

Aside from Thompson, none of the Democrats or Independents that supported the bill on its first trip through the legislature voted for the veto override on Wednesday — including Travis Johnson (D-Vidalia) who signed onto the bill as a coauthor when it first cleared the House in May.

Debate was cut short on the House floor. Before the vote, Rep. Lauri Schlegel (R-Metairie) called on the Democrats who previously supported the measure to do so again to address what she described as a “growing problem.”

“Biological men are taking the place of biological women in girls sports from winning state championships to taking spots on Olympic teams,” Schlegel said. “This is the truth the governor refuses to acknowledge: respecting biological differences is not discrimination — it’s not hate.”

Rep. Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) spoke for those who opposed the legislation, echoing Edwards’ and his Senate colleagues concerns that enacting the proposed ban would

“If this was a real problem we would have addressed the issue years ago, but this is nothing more than a manufactured wedge issue that is aimed only at dividing us,” Duplessis said. “This bill will not protect our girls; this bill will only further ostracize and alienate our state’s most vulnerable and marginalized children.”

If the effort had succeeded, the effort would have been only the third veto override in state history and the first time lawmakers did so during a special veto session. Louisiana lawmakers have overturned gubernatorial vetoes in 1991 and 1993, but on both occasions the override votes took place while lawmakers were already gathered for a regular legislative session.

The would have banned transgender girls from competing on sports teams that coincided with their gender identity.

The failure of the legislation will likely have no effect on transgender athletes to compete in Louisiana school sports. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s policies prohibits transgender atheltes from competition unless they have undergone “sex reassignment” surgery. But performing such a procedure on minors is considered medical malpractice by state medical standards.

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

The LHSAA policy stands at odds to those of NCAA and International Olympic Committee, both of which allow transgender athletes to compete in the division that matches their gender identity.

The Louisiana Senate failed to advance any other override votes. On Tuesday, SB 118, which would have allowed Louisianans to carry concealed firearms without undergoing the permitting and training process currently required by state law, fell three votes short of the 26 needed in the Senate to override a gubernatorial veto. Three Republican senators — Louie Bernard of Natchitoches, Patrick Connick of Kenner, and Franklin Foil of Baton Rouge — refused to override the veto.

Connick, who voted for the veto override of the transgender sports ban, spoke against SB 118 on the Senate floor and said he would not vote to override any other vetoes. He expressed frustration at the tenor of debate leading up to the veto session and read into the record hate mail he received at his legislative office.

Connick’s vow effectively doomed any other veto override efforts. The Republican party controls 27 seats in the Senate and needs only 26 votes to override a veto. But Republican Senator Ronnie Johns of Lake Charles is absent from the session, after undergoing surgery earlier this month.

House members passed over 20 other vetoed bills that may be considered for an override vote later this session. But it is unlikely that any of the measures earn enough support from Democrats to overturn Edwards’ vetoes.

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.

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