Louisiana Legislature’s veto override session: 6 things to know

Louisiana lawmakers are calling what appears to be the first veto override session ever

By: - July 19, 2021 4:57 pm
Legislature names 4 to Louisiana Ethics Board

The Louisiana Capitol Building, April 8, 2021. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator).

The Louisiana Legislature will hold a session to override the governor’s vetoes for the first time in the state’s modern history. It’s set to start Tuesday and must end by Saturday at midnight, though lawmakers could vote to adjourn early.

Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed 28 bills and several lawmakers’ pet construction projects from three other pieces of legislation.

Legislators said they were primarily motivated to return for a veto override session over two bills — one that would prohibit transgender girls and women from participating in girls’ and women’s  sports and another that would allow people to carry a concealed gun without receiving training on how to use it. 

Under current law, people who want to carry a concealed gun in Louisiana have to pay a permit fee and go through a class before being allowed to do so. They can already “open carry” — have an exposed gun on their body — without going through any training. 

Veto overrides in Louisiana are rare. It’s only been known to happen twice in the history of the state. 

Lawmakers overrode a veto of Gov. Buddy Roemer in 1991 — after he rejected a bill that would have sent doctors to prison for performing abortions. The legislation was later found to be unconstitutional and struck down by the courts.

In 1993, Gov. Edwin Edwards was also overridden over an issue with then-Attorney General Richard Ieyoub’s annual budget. Edwards agreed to restore some funding for Ieyoub that the Legislature had taken out. The veto override didn’t get a lot of attention, though. Lawmakers from that time hardly remember it happening.

What makes the potential veto overrides coming up this week different from those that happened in the past is that they would be happening during a veto override session.

The Roemer and Edwin Edwards’ overrides happened within a regular lawmaking session. Not in the modern era have lawmakers called themselves back in for a veto override session — a session focused exclusively on overturning the governor. It could set a new precedent, which would make veto overrides more likely.

Here’s what you need to know about it:

It’s not just about transgender people and guns. Other issues could be on the table. 

While the focus is on bills that affect transgender people in sports (Senate Bill 156) and concealed guns (Senate Bill 118), the Legislature could try to override the governor on any piece of legislation he rejected. These include bills that deal with election procedures, vaccine mandates, public records and tax policy. 

To overturn a veto, two-thirds of the members of both the Senate and the House must vote in favor of  a veto override. Outside of the transgender sports ban and concealed guns bills, fourteen other vetoed bills passed the Legislature with enough votes during the regular session to override a veto. This includes legislation that provides extra scrutiny of election outcomes and that would put limits on any hypothetical government COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

It’s not clear yet whether the legislators intend to try to overturn these vetoes as well as the two that have gotten more attention. Some legislators believe it is prudent to wait and see how the votes on the two high-profile bills — the transgender women sports ban and the concealed gun issue — go before thinking about what else might come up for a vote.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said Monday that he is confident the Legislature will override the governor’s veto of the ban on transgender girls and women in girls’ and women’s sports. He didn’t answer a question about whether a bill to make it easier to carry a concealed gun has the votes to override a veto. 

The House Speaker and Senate President have a lot of power over the process.

Since Louisiana has never held a veto session in its modern history before, there’s no precedent for how the veto override procedures will work — and there’s not a lot of clarity in Louisiana law. Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, will have a lot of latitude to set the rules.  

The law is not clear on how many times a veto override can be attempted on a single bill or whether only the author of the bill can bring it up for a veto override. These details matter because any veto override vote is expected to be close. It is thought the bills could pass or fail based on one- or two-vote margins.

Schexnayder said he believes that bills can be brought up for veto override consideration through a simple majority vote in the House. The bills then need two-thirds support for the veto override to be successful. The Speaker also said he believes only the author of the legislation can bring it up for veto override consideration in the House. 

During a meeting with the media Monday, Schexnayder didn’t mention how many times he thought the chamber could attempt a veto override on a single bill. It’s not clear whether the Senate and House get one vote for an override — or multiple votes over the five-day session.   

Some veto overrides might take more than one day. 

The House rules require bills to sit overnight after the Senate sends them over to the lower chamber. So if the two high-profile bills manage to clear a veto in the Senate, they still may have to wait a day before they can be voted on in the House.

Legislative leaders say they don’t want the veto session to drag out for five days, but it will likely take at least two or three days because of the way the House rules work. 

It’s not clear how partisan the votes will be. 

In order for lawmakers to successfully override the governor, they need to get House Democrats or independents to vote for a bill. The Republicans don’t have enough votes in the House to reach the two-thirds vote threshold on a purely partisan vote.

Additionally, Rep. Joe Stagni, R-Kenner, may not vote to override the governor on either of the two most high-profile bills — the transgender girls and women sports ban and the concealed gun legislation. That means the Republicans could still be three votes short of the 70 threshold they need to override the governor in the House, unless they can get all three independents or some Democrats to join them.

Getting a few Democrats and independents on board might not be a difficult task. After all, two independent and several Democrats voted for the bills during the regular session. Two Democrats — Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi and Travis Johnson of Vidalia — were co-sponsors of the legislation to prohibit transgender girls and women from participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams.

Democrats are attempting to keep their members from voting for an override by framing the issue as a vote against the governor, who is also a Democrat.

“This is a different vote altogether,” said Rep. Sam Jenkins, D-Shreveport, the head of the House Democratic Caucus. “Whatever position you took on the bill, that doesn’t change now, but you can certainly take a look at what position you take on the veto.”

“I think the governor’s veto power is very important and most of us see that as something different than whether the bill becomes law or not,” Jenkins said.

Any successful veto overrides could still end up in court.

Even if the Legislature successfully overrides the governor, the bills will likely end up in court — possibly based on whether procedure was followed during this historic veto override session. Democrats said they are going to be watching for inconsistencies from the Republican leadership, something that might help them mount a legal defense if the veto overrides are successful.

“The rulebook is going to be very much our friend,” said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, who is head of the Legislative Black Caucus.

Some of the legislation may also end up in court because of the substance of the bills. The American Civil Liberties Union and transgender advocacy groups have already filed lawsuits over similar bans of transgender athletes in other states. A federal judge in Idaho blocked that state’s prohibition on transgender women in women’s sports last year

Veto overrides are unusual in Louisiana, but common in other states. 

While gubernatorial veto overrides are rare in Louisiana, they are routine in other states. Some statehouses return for a veto override session every year. It’s considered a regular part of lawmakers’ jobs elsewhere. A few states also allow lawmakers to conduct veto overrides from the previous year in their annual regular session. 

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Legislature voted to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of legislation prohibiting transgender children and teenagers from receiving medical care affirming their gender. Last year, Mississippi lawmakers overturned Gov. Tate Reeves’ veto of most of the state’s education budget

In Texas, lawmakers can only override a governor’s veto during the Legislature’s regular lawmaking session. They do not have the option for a veto override once the regular session adjourns, according to the Texas government website.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.