Gov. John Bel Edwards issued vetoes Monday, June 20, 2022, on 17 more bills approved in the 2022 legislative session. (Canva image)
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday he has vetoed 17 bills from the regular legislative session, his most extensive list of rejections to date. The spurned proposals include two that would have redirected state education money for struggling public school students and others that took aim at the governor’s pandemic policy.
Notably not on the list are two bills that Edwards has yet to sign, strict anti-abortion measures that the governor said a week ago his staff was still reviewing.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, sponsored Senate Bill 203 so that families could remove struggling readers from public school and use state tax dollars for private or home schooling. House Bill 194, from Rep. Rhonda Butler, R-Ville Platte, also targeted students reading behind grade level.
Edwards’ veto messages for the bills said neither created actual accounts for parents to receive state money, which he opposed taking from public schools. The subsidy would have equaled how much the state spends per student at public schools through its Minimum Foundation Plan formula.
The actual amount per student would vary among school districts depending on a variety of factors, including local tax revenue available and the number of low-income and special needs students. School districts could have seen additional costs or savings as a result.
Students who used the education savings account to pull out of public school would have been awarded more than $5,100 each on average, according to the fiscal note for Hewitt’s bill.
COVID proposals quashed
A trio of rejected bills do not specifically single out COVID-19, but their provisions address widely criticized orders from Edwards during the pandemic.
Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, sought to make discrimination based on vaccination status a punishable crime. His House Bill 54 was watered down to gain approval in the Legislature. Its final version would have opened government agencies and schools to lawsuits if they denied admission or jobs to someone who wasn’t vaccinated.
The governor’s veto message said the bill from Bagley, who chairs the House health committee, “…perpetuates the false narrative that the residents of Louisiana face vaccine mandates to access government services or attend schools and also seeks to undermine public confidence in safe and effective vaccines.”
Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, sought to exclude houses of worship from state restrictions harsher than those applied to any other type of business or public gathering. The governor said the bill could put congregations in harm’s way during an emergency.
Edwards also shot down a Senate Bill 141 from Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, that would have prohibited insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone because they weren’t vaccinated.
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Criminal justice vetoes
The governor also singled out a handful of proposed laws that sought tougher consequences for criminals.
Rep. Wayne McMahen, R-Minden, wanted to add resisting a police officer with force or violence to the state’s list of violent crimes. Edwards said he turned down the bill because it went against the criminal justice reforms his administration put in place five years ago. In addition, a number of existing laws on the book – such as aggravated assault, aggravated flight and battery of a peace officer – are considered violent crimes with more severe penalties.
House Bill 103 from Rep. Polly Thomas, R-Metairie, would have required convicted methamphetamine makers to register with local law enforcement.
“Substance abuse is a serious problem and we should be focusing on treatment resources rather than placing a scarlet letter on a person convicted of this sole drug offense,” the governor’s veto message said.
Senate Bill 304 from Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, sought to make it harder for anyone convicted of killing a police officer or first responder in the line of duty to receive good time while in prison. The governor said he vetoed the bill because it did not distinguish whether a defendant knew the victim was a police officer or whether the death was intentional.
Edwards also rejected a Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, bill that would have forced judges to revoke bail for a defendant after a post-conviction arrest. The governor said the proposal would have denied due process rights.
Political bills snubbed
Seabaugh also wanted to allow the Legislature to attempt overrides of the governor’s vetoes during the regular session without having to adjourn and reconvene. Edwards said the proposal violates the state Constitution, which spells out veto override protocols.
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The Secretary of State would have been required to conduct a supplemental post-election canvas of voters under House Bill 35 from Rep. Les Farnum, R-Sulphur. Edwards vetoed a similar measure last year. He said it’s unnecessary because parish election officials already go through their voter records each year, and another canvas from the Secretary of State would make it easier to remove voters from the rolls.
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