Largely out of the headlines, Louisiana’s Republican-led Legislature has made quiet inroads on some do-over legislation that stand a good chance of becoming law – if its GOP leaders get with the program.
Last year in the second special session, the GOP chambers sent bills to create a more accountable and responsive emergency governance regime (in part prompted by a poorly-reasoned but highly-activist court decision on the existing statute defining this) and to prevent election interference through donations by private interests during emergency periods. Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed both.
Fortunately, legislators didn’t give up and two similar bills look likely to reach the desk of Edwards this session, all other things equal. HB 149 by GOP state Rep. Larry Frieman would clarify emergency powers law to ensure even the most activist judge can’t misinterpret the law other than its explicit wording to give each chamber a veto power over gubernatorial assertions of authority in a declared emergency, in whole or part, taking effect when the next governor assumes office. HB 20 by GOP state Rep. Blake Miguez makes for an even tighter regulation of private election conduct donations, removing the language from his previous version limiting it only to those held under emergency conditions.
Edwards’ veto message for the latter’s 2020 version took a flight of fancy, saying the private funds – with some promised from a leftist interest group that never materialized because Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry warned the money legally would have to go through the appropriations process, which in October was impossible to achieve prior to that year’s elections – could have mitigated Wuhan coronavirus safety costs. This year that reasoning has no leg to stand upon, and the compressed nature of the special session then presented no opportunity to have an override vote during it.
Unlike this year, where the bill has moved along to the point it should go to Edwards with time to spare for an override. Votes then and now suggest it would pick up just enough non-Republicans to survive a veto. The thing most likely to hold it back now is whether Republican Sen. Pres. Page Cortez slow-walks it through that chamber to the point an override would require an override session unlikely to happen, essentially guaranteeing a veto would stand.
That obstinacy, on the part of GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, may lay behind the relatively slow pace for HB 149, which languished in committee for two months before moving to the floor last week. The 2020 version had slightly reduced majorities behind it, but possibly the greater flexibility in HB 149 and the later effective date could draw supermajority support, because, make no mistake, opposition to it purely is on a partisan basis. Witness in its committee hearing the Democrats who complained it reduced unity of command in this area of decision-making – disregarding that the law already does that.
If Schexnayder isn’t a secret opponent of the bill trying to make himself appear the opposite by voting for its 2020 version, he would have given the word to have the committee move the bill earlier in the session. But there’s still time to whip it out and, with Cortez’s cooperation, it also could go to Edwards within two weeks, forcing the governor to act on it prior to session’s end that provides an override possibility during the regular session.
Schexnayder particularly has drawn flak from conservatives for his unenthusiastic embrace of legislation that has sailed through other states with similarly-large Republican legislative majorities. Putting this pair of sensible bills across the finish line would ease that concern.