Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, left, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder speak at a press conference after the close of the 2023 legislative session Thursday, June 8, 2023. (Wes Muller/Louisiana Illuminator)
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ decision to veto legislation banning medical treatments for transgender youth is pushing state lawmakers to return for an override session next week, but bills concerning the state budget, criminal sentencing and taxes are also expected to come up for a vote.
Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed 25 pieces of legislation and portions of three budget bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature during their annual lawmaking session that ended in early June. Legislative leaders expect to return for a veto override session July 18, where any vetoed bill can be brought up for reconsideration.
To avoid reconvening, a majority of members in either chamber have to notify leadership by Thursday, though lawmakers said that’s very unlikely.
Actually overriding a gubernatorial veto requires a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, but 18 of the 25 vetoed bills received enough votes during the spring session to clear that threshold. Legislators have already committed to bring a few of those proposals back up for reconsideration.
Most of the focus has been on legislation sponsored by Rep. Gabe Firment, R-Pollock, that would ban a wide range of medical care for transgender children and teenagers. Republican lawmakers said Firment’s proposal, which passed with enough votes for an override, is the primary reason for reconvening.
“The Firment bill is the real driver,” Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said in an interview Friday.
Two more vetoed bills that put restrictions on LGBTQ+ youth also are expected to get override votes. One limits the pronouns and names transgender students in K-12 public schools can use. Another, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
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Lawmakers also plan to bring up other proposals.
Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, on Friday said he’ll ask colleagues to override the governor’s veto of his legislation that would require 17-year-olds accused of crimes of violence to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system. Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs also plans to bring up his vetoed bill to lengthen mandatory prison sentences for people convicted of multiple crimes.
Some of the governor’s budget vetoes could also garner another vote. Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, said he wants to reverse changes Edwards made to the state spending plan, though he declined to get into specifics. Zeringue said he needed to consult with House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, before speaking publicly about his plans.
The governor’s most notable adjustments to the budget were taking out a $100 million reduction to the Louisiana Department of Health’s budget, removing an additional $125 million debt payment for the public employee retirement system and freeing up more money for early childhood education programs. He also eliminated several state construction projects from the districts of legislators who tried to block Edwards and other lawmakers from spending more state money this year.
Lawmakers whose communities lost construction dollars are pushing for the budget vetoes to be brought up for reconsideration. Many of the eliminated items include roads, bridges, community centers and water systems — projects they say are vital to their constituents.
“These are water systems in small, rural communities that this man cut. It merits scrutiny,” said Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, whose home parish of Vernon lost millions of dollars. “This is not a kingdom. This is a representative republic.”
It’s not clear how popular restoring smaller projects in individual districts might be during a veto session. The Republican legislative leadership was also upset with the same group of lawmakers for trying to restrict the state’s spending and might side with the governor on those particular vetoed items.
Tax changes could also get a second look. The governor vetoed two bills from Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin: One sets up a framework to reduce the state’s corporate franchise tax and the other rolls back a business tax break to partially make up for the loss in revenue from the tax reduction.
Allain hasn’t decided whether he will pursue a veto override yet. He is consulting with Cortez and the governor over what to do.
“We may not come to a decision until we open the veto session,” Allain said.
His legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate and would likely stand a good chance of clearing the vetoes, but critics have said this tax scheme could also worsen a projected state budget shortfall after 2025.
Schexnayder, the leader of the House, said he doesn’t plan to control what bills lawmakers bring up for a vote.
“The bills that will come up will be decided by members, not by leadership,” Schexnayder wrote in a text.
Veto override sessions can only last five days, meaning the session would have to end by July 23. Schexnayder said he expects lawmakers to adjourn earlier.
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