Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoes ban on transgender women and girls in women’s sports

Lawmakers passed the bill with overwhelming support

By: - June 22, 2021 3:34 pm
Transgender

Trans Pride flags | Ted Eytan via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed a ban on transgender women and girls participating in women and girls sporting events. The veto didn’t come as a surprise. The governor, a Democrat, had said in April that he intended to reject the legislation if it passed

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in a written statement Tuesday. “Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue.”

“It would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens,” Edwards said.

Now, the question is whether the bill has enough support that lawmakers will attempt to override Edwards’ veto. It would require legislators to return to Baton Rouge for a veto override session in the middle of July — something that lawmakers have never done in the modern history of the state

The majority of lawmakers in both the House and the Senate would have to vote to return to Baton Rouge for the veto override session. House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-French Settlement, is advocating for lawmakers to make such arrangements.

“While I do not have the authority to call one, I do support a veto session and I am in favor of overriding the governor’s veto,” of the ban on transgender women and girls in women’s sports, Schexnayder said in written statement Tuesday.

Senate Bill 156, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in girls and women’s sports at the elementary, high school, college and adult level unless the competition was already mixed-gender. 

It runs counter to guidelines provided by the NCAA and International Olympic Committee — which both allow transgender women to compete in women’s sports as long as they take testosterone suppressants.

Transgender girls and women competing in sports also hasn’t been a problem so far in Louisiana. Mizell couldn’t cite an incident where a transgender women or girl has interfered with girls and women’s athletics in the state.

This could be because the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s rules around transgender students’ participation in sports are so restrictive that they amount to an effective ban, according to transgender advocates.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association knows of only one case of a transgender high school student attempting to participate in high school sports. The organization removed a transgender boy — someone assigned female at birth — from the Mandeville High School boys cross country team in 2019 over his gender.

New Orleans officials and tourism leaders have also warned that the legislation could spell trouble for Louisiana’s economy. Sports leagues have boycotted states over gay and transgender restrictions in recent years. The state — and particularly New Orleans — could also lose movie productions, concerts, business conventions and other regular tourism business over such a restriction. 

“[The bill] does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state,” Edwards said in his written statement about his veto Tuesday.

“They will have a negative impact,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, a Republican official in charge of the state’s tourism efforts, when asked about the proposed transgender restrictions in April. “It would be better for us to open our doors very wide.”

But lawmakers approved the transgender ban with enough votes to execute an override of the governor’s veto if they wanted. The House passed the legislation 78-19 and the Senate passed it 29-6, with both Democrats and Republicans voting in favor of the ban. Supporters only need two-thirds of each chamber to overturn Edwards’ decision.

When asked whether she would push for a veto override of her bill earlier this month, Mizell pointed out the bill had passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers, but did not commit to pushing for an override session. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Louisiana Family Forum, a network of conservative Christian churches, is pushing lawmakers to come back for a veto session though.

“Biology isn’t bigotry and respecting biological differences isn’t discrimination – it is common sense. We must protect opportunities and a fair and competitive playing field for Louisiana women and girls,” said Gene Mills, president of the organization.

Veto overrides after a regular legislative session has ended are unheard of in Louisiana, even if they are common in several other states. The Legislature has never called itself back into a session for the purpose of overriding a governor’s veto. There have been just two veto overrides ever in the last 100 years — and both of those occurred while the Legislature’s was still convened for its regular lawmaking session

But the dynamics between the current governor and the Legislature are different than they have been in the past. It’s a divided government. Edwards is a Democrat and the Legislature is run by conservative Republicans. A lot of the lawmakers are also in their freshman terms — over half of the Louisiana House is new — and they may not have as many reservations about voting to return to Baton Rouge in July to overturn a governor’s decision. 

Still, the Legislature didn’t make this bill a priority during the session, despite legislators’ voting overwhelmingly for it. The House leadership held onto the bill for a few days before bringing it up for a vote on the House floor. If they had brought it up for a vote more quickly, they would could have made an override of the governor’s veto far easier.

Under that scenario, the governor would have been forced to veto the bill before the end of the lawmakers’ regular session earlier this month. They wouldn’t have had to vote to return to Baton Rouge at all for the override because they would have already been at the Capitol. The House leadership — by delaying a vote on the bill — made a veto override more difficult.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.

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