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Beam: Veto sessions still longshot

Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 5:19 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The state House of Representatives was willing to try and restore $6 million in funding for the disabled that was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. However, one house can cancel a veto session, and the Senate rejected the idea by a wide margin.

Both sides offer valid reasons for their votes for and against a veto session. But the bottom line is that $6 million to help those in need isn’t in the state budget.

Advocates for the disabled had lobbied hard for a veto session, and 67 members of the House went along with the idea. The other 38 sent in ballots, which meant they wanted to cancel the session. If the Senate had agreed with the House, the session would have started Tuesday. But two-thirds of the 39 senators (26) were opposed.

The odds of holding a veto session weren’t good to start with. It hasn’t happened since the current state constitution went into effect at midnight on Dec. 31, 1974. Only two gubernatorial vetoes have been overridden since then, but they occurred while lawmakers were still in session.

Former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards vetoed a bill in 1993 that took $3 million from the budget of then-state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub. Senators voted 34-4 to override the veto, and the House agreed with a 91-7 vote. Legislators used the funds to balance the state budget.

Lawmakers also overrode former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s veto of a tough anti-abortion bill during the 1991 session. The Senate vote was 29-9 to override, and the House vote was 76-25. The legislation Roemer vetoed would have jailed doctors who perform the procedure. Roemer said the act would be tough to defend in court and was “totally unfair to women who have been brutalized and raped.”

Both Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, opposed the veto session. The Advocate reported that Alario has a daughter with special needs.

“Nobody understands it better than I do.... I’ll do all I can so that in coming years we’ll have adequate funding,” he told the newspaper.

Alario said many senators were disappointed with certain decisions made by the Jindal administration, “especially those relating to services for the disabled and their families.” However, he added the session would be costly and it would be difficult to get the two-thirds vote necessary to override any veto. He added that discussions are already under way to find more efficient ways to utilize health care dollars.

Kleckley told The Times-Picayune he is working with the governor to find permanent and recurring funding to expand the NOW program that helps families dealing with developmental disabilities.

“I and many members of the House don’t agree with the vetoes in general,” he told the newspaper. “However, Louisiana has a history of serving its citizens; I believe we can find solutions without calling a veto session that could produce unintended consequences.”

Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, led an effort to hold the veto session, even though he admitted it was an uphill fight. He was right about the House supporting a veto session, but knew Alario’s stand would have a strong influence on the Senate. And it obviously did.

“If it doesn’t happen, it will have a lot more to do with the relationship Sen. Alario has with the senators,” Edwards told The Advocate. “I think this is probably uneasy for him.”

Advocates for the disabled put forth a serious effort to get legislators to hold the veto session. They met with a number of them and with members of the Jindal administration in an effort to find ways to restore their lost funding.

Their pleas to hold the session were unsuccessful, but they did make some gains in the process. The state Department of Health and Hospitals has said it will distribute its dollars for the disabled on a needs basis rather than on “first-come first-served.” Some 10,000 people are on a waiting list for financial and other help. Changes will also be made in how domestic violence programs are funded.

Jindal is responsible for the vetoes, but that is because the Legislature shifted some of its responsibilities to properly fund all programs to the governor’s desk. Lawmakers gave Jindal a budget with a $46 million shortfall and directed him to make the cuts necessary to make it balance. The governor could have made reductions elsewhere, so they both share some of the blame.

Alario and Kleckley are probably right about the veto session being unproductive, but no one knows that for certain. And the disabled don’t have any guarantees that money will be found somewhere else or whether the program changes being suggested by the Jindal administration are going to help their cause that much.

Comments that Jason Durham, 45, of Clinton made to The Times-Picayune struck a responsive chord in many quarters. Durham has a 20-year-old daughter with a rare neurological disorder that halted her mental development when she was 6 months old. He said he spent 14 years on a waiting list before getting help.

Durham told the newspaper he doesn’t understand how the state can find money for a statewide expansion of the school voucher program ($45 million) and allow salary increases at the executive level at the same time it is cutting $4 million for the disabled.

Do you think he could get a straight answer to that one?

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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