SADOW: The Legislators, And Not Their Leadership, Might Cause A Veto Session

So, what’s it going to be, veto session or not? What seems more certain is that the Republican leadership in the Louisiana Legislature doesn’t have much control over its members on this issue.

With a final body count of 28 (plus a few line items in the operating budget), Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards cast vetoes under the looming reality that not only a real possibility exists of a veto session springing to life to challenge his hit jobs, but also that one or more overrides may succeed. That the Legislature, with a GOP supermajority in the Senate plus one and only one short of that in the House of Representatives, called such a session last year and another concurrent with the regular session this year that did override a special session veto makes this inescapable.

And, yes, there now are 69 Republicans in the House with the quiet party switch of state Rep. Malinda White – at this time last year a Democrat – from no party. This likely has much more to do with her future political ambitions than any change of heart, but her eagerness ensures she’ll vote to override at least some measures so as to create favorable campaign talking points, and the fact that Democrat state Rep. Francis Thompson these days much more often votes with the GOP than with his fellow Democrats means an effective override majority now also exists in the House.

Edwards did inject a little strategy into his choices, hoping to fell just enough bills he detested to stop short of raising too much ire in legislators to induce their calling off the session, even as many he vetoed gathered in passage veto-proof majorities. For example, he hacked out SB 350 by Republican state Sen. Heather Cloud that would boost election integrity, but let slide SB 144 by GOP state Sen. Robert Mills that makes for more secure absentee ballot custody. Similarly, he gored to death HB 661 by GOP state Rep. Stephanie Hilferty that would have limited local authorities’ declarations of emergency from affecting operations of state buildings, but let stand her HB 701 that marginally attenuates gubernatorial emergency powers.

In the latter case, the calculation may have been in letting one of her bills go that would discourage Hilferty, who even with White’s switch remains one of the least conservative members of the House, from holding on to her veto session ballot. The problem is that while it may take a supermajority to override, it takes but a majority to trigger the session, and the House seems like a lost cause when already its Conservative Caucus has had it 42 members commit to the session. As for the Senate, although some of the least conservative Republicans such as state Sens. Louie Bernard and Patrick Connick might not want a session, it’s still likely that at least 20 of the 27 of their party will.

This explains the unsurety of GOP leaders when addressing the issue. On Jun. 23, one media outlet reported that House Speaker Pro Tem Republican Tanner Magee called a veto session unlikely and unnecessary, opining it wouldn’t happen as it would force members into a fourth session of the year and that nothing vetoed couldn’t wait a year. Problem is, Magee draws little water with the Caucus, almost none of whom voted for his boss GOP Speaker Clay Schexnayder for the top post.

Thus, perhaps to get in front of growing sentiment for a session (regardless of whether behind the scenes he might work against it), a week later Schexnayder told another media outlet that he preferred a session. And this would be a real problem for Edwards, because the odds are better that if a session gets called that it would result in a few successful overrides than there being a session called in the first place.

The fact is that once in session, roll call votes occur, so those squishier Republicans who try to avoid a session in order to avoid votes that could cause problems with their voters can’t do so and then on those bills have to choose between voting their core beliefs aligned with special interest pressures or following a majority of their constituents’ wishes with elections less than a year-and-a-half away. Therefore, they will turn in their ballots to dodge a session, but if there is one oftentimes they will vote to override.

Ultimately, to stay in power legislative leaders must listen to their members, especially when most of the party coalesces around one view. Despite his tactics, Edwards seems to have vetoed too many bills too important to a large swath of legislative Republicans in each chamber, regardless of leadership desires. Chances are this means a veto session is on the way and Edwards will suffer more than one defeat during it.

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