Louisiana’s legislative Republican majority, with help from transient other party allies, need to finish the job during this week’s veto session.
It’s not enough to have triggered a historic veto override session that sets the stage for overturning egregious vetoes by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Letting him off the hook without reversing anything only will embolden him to keep denying good legislation the kind of which many other states routinely pass. Two-thirds majorities in each chamber will do the trick.
The margins that produced the session provide a clue as to whether and how intensely the GOP can achieve its mission. In the House, 69 – all Republicans minus one plus a Democrat and no party member – voted against not having the session, one short of that majority. In the Senate, all 27 Republicans – one more than a supermajority – did so.
Coming up one short in the House doesn’t mean zero overrides in the offing. Likely a few of those who did return a ballot asking for session cancellation now when forced to attend one will be amenable to supporting overrides on an issue-by-issue basis. At the same time, Democrats in particular may wish not to dilute the power of their co-partisan Edwards, and Edwards might be able to cut some side deals to capture Republicans, which observers suspect he has attempted to do in the case of Republican state Sen. Ronnie Johns who has said he won’t attend the session, thereby leaving the GOP at the bare minimum for overrides in that chamber.
At the absolute least, on one bill Republicans must succeed. SB 156, which prevents discrimination by sex in scholastic and collegiate sports gives them their best shot on a wide-reaching bill. That got the House votes of two no party members and nine Democrats, although Republican state Rep. Joe Stagni voted negative (and was the Republican who asked for session cancellation), and picked up all present GOP and votes of four Democrats in the Senate (Johns and state Sen. Mike Fesi were absent). And in fact, SB 156 was passed by a 26-12 margin on Tuesday; it will go to the House where it’s expected to be made law.
Edwards would suffer a defeat in that case, but not a catastrophic one. It would chasten him not to deny bills well past the two-thirds borderline, but he still could work his wiles on those closer to the line. Beating him on one with hardly any Democrats’ support would make him a lame duck well in advance of his term’s conclusion.
SB 118, which makes concealed carry of firearms legal without government restrictions for most adult citizens, exemplifies this kind of bill. The House again saw Stagni defect from the majority (and two other Republicans didn’t vote on it) but it chalked up two no party members and five Democrats, while the Senate margin included just one Democrat and GOP state Sen. Rick Ward didn’t vote, so Johns’ self-deportation leaves that vote right on the rivet. Then Tuesday, Sens. Louie Bernard, Patrick Connick and Franklin Foil turned their coats and denied the bill an override majority. There is word the bill will come back up for another vote in this session; we will see whether that transpires.
Johns’ absence imperils the chances of several other vetoed bills, but if GOP senators hold the line on HB 256, which would query teachers annually whether they wanted the state to deduct professional organization dues from paychecks, that would make it. The same applies for HB 597, which disallows discriminatory behavior by lenders. A pair of Senate election integrity bills, SB 220 and SB 224, passed easily in the Senate but picked up only enough non-Republican House support to project them receiving right on the 70 votes needed. Both fell short on Tuesday thanks to vote-flippers.
HB 438, which would ask for positive identification of public records seekers and reduce frivolous and abusive requests, passed both chambers unanimously and surely could add some lagniappe. SB 63, which keeps a pristine chain of command for absentee ballots, also passed both houses unanimously and its override would accomplish the same. It has not yet come up for a vote, having been returned to the calendar yesterday.
Overrides for either or both of this pair and SB 156 will score a substantial hit on Edwards’ power. Add any of the others, particularly SB 118 if it’s reconsidered, and it will cripple his ability to set future policy direction. With Edwards’ agenda often at odds with what’s best for Louisiana, the GOP leadership must bring all of these to a successful vote, putting itself in the policy-making driver’s seat for the foreseeable future.