Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoes bills related to vaccines, emergency powers and elections
Gov. John Bel Edwards (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Friday that he vetoed 28 of the 505 bills the Louisiana Legislature sent him during the 2021 legislative session. That number includes the construction bill because Edwards used a line-item veto for some projects lawmakers approved. The Legislature can override any of the governor’s vetoes with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, and it appears that the Legislature, for the first time in modern Louisiana history, will actually convene an override session in the attempt to force its will into law.
Edwards promised early on during the session that he would veto any bill he determined discriminated against transgender people, and on June 22, he vetoed Senate Bill 156 by Sen. Beth Mizell (R-Franklinton) which seeks to ban transgender women and girls participating in women and girls sporting events.
“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 when he announced he’d vetoed the legislation. “It would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianians when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens.”
That’s not the only issue where the conservative Democrat is on the opposite side of conservative Republicans. Edwards has been supportive of gun rights and supportive of loosening gun restrictions; even so, he made lawmakers aware that his support of gun rights did not extend to a so-called “constitutional carry” bill by Sen. Jay Morris (R-West Monroe) that would allow Louisiana residents to carry concealed weapons without applying for a permit or undergoing training.
“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and an enthusiastic outdoorsman and hunter,” Edwards said when he wrote in a June 25 statement. “But I simply cannot support carrying a concealed firearm without proper education and safety training — and I believe a majority of Louisianans agree with me. Simply put, it is not too much to ask that a person who wishes to carry a concealed weapon in public be required to attend basic marksmanship and safety training so they understand the regulations associated with such an action.”
Here are some of the other bills the governor vetoed:
Bills related to COVID-19 vaccines
Edwards vetoed a pair of bills that its sponsors said would protect Louisianians from being required to be vaccinated and protect business owners from liability if they don’t require shots for their employees or customers.
House Bill 498 by Rep. Kathy Edmonston (R-Gonzales) seeks to prohibit the state government or local governments from distinguishing between vaccinated and unvaccinated residents as long as the COVID-19 vaccines are under emergency use authorization.
During a May hearing of the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee in May, Edmonston said she’d been getting “numerous calls from students, parents and citizens in Louisiana related to required or mandated COVID vaccines and testing.” She said the people calling her “felt that the coercive nature of the communication they received (from their schools) impacted their own right to make medical decisions for themselves.” The bill that passed the Legislature wouldn’t apply to schools or hospitals.
Edwards vetoed Edmonston’s bill, he said in a statement Friday, because “it attempts to undermine the public’s faith in the COVID-19 vaccines and change Louisiana’s approach to vaccine requirements for schools and educational facilities, which has been in place for decades without significant controversy.”
As for House Bill 103 by Rep. Danny McCormick (R-Oil City), which would have shielded business owners from liability if they don’t mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for their employees or customers, Edwards said in a statement that he vetoed it because “it is not necessary.”
He said McCormick’s legislation “contributes to (the) false narrative that the COVID-19 vaccines are anything other than safe and effective; and it does nothing to protect the health and safety of the public.”
Bill related to emergency powers
For the second consecutive legislative session, lawmakers passed legislation that would reduce the governor’s power during emergencies, and for the second consecutive legislative session, Edwards vetoed it. During this year’s session, Rep. Larry Frieman (R-Abita Springs) introduced House Bill 149 which gives the Legislature to repeal a governor’s declaration of a state of disaster or emergency — or parts of it — at any time.
Frieman said in May hearing of the Committee on House and Governmental Affairs that he intended the bill “to balance the power between the legislative branch and the executive branch during a time of emergency.” He said that “the executive branch has all the power and the legislative branch has very little power in dealing with these types of emergency situations.”
During a special session in October 2020, the Legislature not only passed a bill limiting Edwards’ powers, but a majority of the Louisiana House signed a petition that would have temporarily suspended the governor’s authority during an emergency.
In his letter announcing his veto, Edwards referred to October: “I need not provide here how catastrophic the pandemic may have been in Louisiana had the House members been successful in terminating the emergency protective measures during some of the worst months of the third surge in Louisiana.” He also says that Frieman’s bill, which requires that both chambers vote to strip a governor’s power “demonstrates a significant constitutional infirmity in the House petition.”
Bills to change Louisiana election law
Gov. Edwards vetoed a number of Republican-backed election bills. House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Les Farnum (R-Sulphur), requires voter registrars to conduct a “supplemental annual canvas” of all voters and purge the voter registration rolls of any residents who move without updating their voter registration with their current address. It would have placed such voters on an inactive list until the registrar confirmed their new addresses.
In vetoing the bill, Edwards said each parish’s registrar of voters is already required to conduct an annual canvas of all registered voters. The “supplemental annual canvas” is “repetitive and unnecessary,” he wrote and creates a “significant unfunded mandate” on the secretary of state.
House Bill 704, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), would allow a political party to place a poll watcher in every precinct on election day and place “super watchers” in every parish. The watchers and super watchers would be appointed by the state central committee of each political party with at least 25% of the registered voters in the state.
There are currently five recognized political parties in Louisiana, and if the bill were signed into law, “it would be impossible for every recognized political party to have a watcher in every precinct or a super watcher in every parish,” Edwards said of Hodges’ bill in his veto statement. Current law allows for candidates to designate watchers and super watchers, he said. Inserting the state central committee into the process of poll watching would only “further politicize the operation of elections.”
Edwards also vetoed Senate Bill 63, sponsored by Sen. Robert Mills (R-Minden). Minden said he intended his bill to clarify current law by allowing a voter to hand deliver an absentee ballot to any employee at the registrar’s main office, branch or early voting location.
“However, as finally passed, it is now unclear as to whether hand delivery can only take place during the period for conducting early voting or whether hand delivery can take place at an early voting location if it is during the time period for conducting early voting. Access to voting is too important for this uncertainty, and so I have vetoed this bill,” Edwards wrote.
Sen. Heather Cloud (R-Ville Platte) said her Senate Bill 220 was in the name of so-called “election integrity.” It would have required the legislative auditor to conduct annual audits of elections.
The bill is an unnecessary “expansion of government” that creates separation of power issues, Edwards wrote. He said “there has been no legitimate allegation that statutory election processes have not been followed.”
Senate Bill 224, another bill that Sen. Cloud said would bolster “election integrity” would have required voters to include the last four digits of their social security number or driver’s license number on the outside of an absentee mail ballot envelope. That same information would be required for a voter sending an application for an absentee ballot.
Edwards said the bill “would require more stringent requirements to make application to vote absentee by mail than what is currently required to actually vote absentee by mail.” The governor said the bill was hastily drafted and “without proper debate. He said, “Louisiana election law being changed overnight and without proper vetting is an incredible disservice to the people of the state.”
A list of all the bills Gov. Edwards vetoed can be found here.
Editor Jarvis DeBerry contributed to this report.
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