Gov. John Bel Edwards: Some lawmakers focused on ‘non-issues’

‘There’s a little bit of a disconnect,’ Edwards says

By: - April 22, 2022 9:22 am
Governor: Some lawmakers focused on ‘non-issues’

The Louisiana State Capitol (Wesley Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)

With Louisiana legislators scrapping critical infrastructure funding and debating hyper-partisan proposals such as a bill to prohibit transgender kids from playing sports, Gov. John Bel Edwards said some lawmakers are focused on “non-issues” that do nothing to address the things Louisiana residents actually care about. 

Answering questions at a Thursday afternoon press conference, Edwards said there appears to be a “disconnect” between these lawmakers and their constituents. The governor repeatedly referred to recent findings from LSU’s 2022 Louisiana Survey, which listed the top issues that state residents want to see their government leaders work on this year. 

“When you ask people what they’re really concerned about, it’s education, it’s infrastructure and it’s the economy,” he said. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect.” 

Although Edwards said he is generally pleased with how lawmakers are handling the budget, including following through on his request for $1,500 teacher pay raises and $750 for support staff, he said he doesn’t approve of efforts to ban transgender students from competing in high school and college sports, though he stopped short of committing to a veto, noting that the bill has not yet passed both chambers.

Called the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, Senate Bill 44, introduced by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, the Senate approved the bill Tuesday in a 29-6 vote and is pending in the House where the GOP majority will likely approve it. Edwards vetoed the same measure last year and foiled the Legislature’s attempt at an override. 

“I don’t think you all have ever heard me announce from this podium before a bill gets to my desk that I’m going to veto it because I always think that there’s an opportunity and a path forward to working things out,” he said. “So that may not be necessary, but I will tell you that my views haven’t changed.” 

The bill purports to protect a biological female from being harmed or deprived of athletic opportunity if they are forced to compete against a biological male. Edwards said there has not been a single instance of such a situation ever happening in Louisiana. The Louisiana High School Athletics Association already bars transgender children from participating in prep sports.

“This is a non-issue,” the governor said. “This is not what families sit around the supper table talking about.”

Edwards also expressed disappointment that lawmakers have so far scrapped his plans to set aside funding for a new Mississippi River bridge in the Baton Rouge area. The state is flush with a nearly $3 billion surplus and Edwards said would be eligible for additional federal dollars to pay for the bridge project in coming years by setting aside an initial $500 million. Lawmakers instead plan to spend that amount on other transportation projects. 

Edwards criticized lawmakers for squandering what will likely be the only opportunity, financially, to build what he called the “most important infrastructure project in the state.”  

However, with the governor’s blessing, lawmakers plan to put $500 million into the state’s unemployment trust fund. According to the Louisiana Budget Project’s Jan Moller, it amounts to a half-billion dollar gift for businesses that are supposed to replenish the trust fund with their own money via an unemployment tax assessment. Lawmakers have waived that assessment since the beginning of the pandemic, citing its impact on businesses.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.