Louisiana lawmakers embark on the unknown: A veto session

By MELINDA DESLATTE
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana lawmakers Tuesday enter uncharted territory, holding their first-ever veto override session under the nearly 50-year-old state constitution, with uncertainty about whether they’ll have the votes to overturn bill rejections or what the rules of engagement are.

The majority-Republican House and Senate decided to return to the Louisiana Capitol largely because of two bills rejected by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards: a measure banning transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender, and legislation allowing people 21 and older to carry a concealed handgun without needing a permit and safety training.

But they also can consider other measures that Edwards rejected, such as his removal of specific projects from budget bills, or legislation that sought to ban coronavirus vaccine mandates, mandated regular audits of elections and required local school systems to publish their finances in the Louisiana Checkbook online site.

In all, Edwards jettisoned 28 bills from the regular session that ended in June. The veto session — which opens at noon Tuesday — can last up to five days, but legislative leaders said they hope to wrap up well before Saturday.

Even lawmakers who pushed for the session seem uncertain about its likely results, and lawyers for the House and Senate were combing through the legislative rules to determine how the session works.

“It’s something new to everybody, the governor as well as the Senate and the House,” said House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, a Republican from the Baton Rouge suburb of Gonzales.

The Louisiana Constitution enacted in 1974 calls for a veto session to be scheduled automatically when a governor jettisons legislation. But a majority vote of either the House or Senate can scrap the gathering. Lawmakers had a tradition of canceling every veto session since then, no matter the makeup of the governor’s office or the legislative chambers — until now.

Republican legislators decided in a near-bloc to hold the veto session, in a continuing escalation of disagreements with Edwards and an ongoing push to assert their constitutional independence.

Still, while holding the session only required majority support, Republicans will need some support from either Democrats or independents to reach the two-thirds vote required to successfully override a gubernatorial veto. And they face pressure from outside groups on both sides of the debates.

Lawmakers have only overturned two vetoes under the current constitution, both during regular sessions.

Already, at least two lawmakers have publicly said they don’t intend to attend the veto session.

Lake Charles Republican Sen. Ronnie Johns, traditionally an ally of Edwards, announced he’s skipping the veto session to recover from knee replacement surgery. Bogalusa Rep. Malinda White, who recently switched from the Democratic Party to no-party registration, also said she’s skipping the gathering, citing “unexpected medical results.”

Those absences from lawmakers who supported some of the bills up for override votes make the effort to overturn Edwards’ decisions even harder.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.