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Louisiana veto session ends with no bill rejections reversed

By MELINDA DESLATTE, AP

BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana lawmakers ended their historic veto session Wednesday after two days in which Republicans failed to overturn any of Gov. John Bel Edwards' bill rejections, a significant blow to GOP efforts to assert independence from the Democratic governor.

The session collapsed after House Republicans couldn't garner the votes to reverse Edwards' veto of legislation banning transgender athletes from school sports teams, the driving force behind the first veto session ever held under the nearly 50-year-old state constitution.

“It appears that we have concluded the business of the veto session,” Republican Senate President Page Cortez said two hours after the House's failed override vote.

While the Senate narrowly agreed Tuesday to the veto override of the sports ban, the House on Wednesday fell two votes short of the two-thirds support required to bypass the governor. Republicans were unable to sway the handful of Democrats needed to reach the supermajority hurdle to mark what would have been the first time in nearly 30 years that the Louisiana Legislature has overridden a gubernatorial veto.

Republican-led efforts to reverse Edwards’ spurning of a bill to loosen the rules for carrying concealed handguns in Louisiana stalled in the Senate, with three votes fewer than required. Other veto overrides in the Senate failed as well, and the House didn't try to overturn anything beyond the sports ban measure.

“Obviously, I’m heartened because I believe the vetoes that I issued were in the state’s best interest," Edwards, the Deep South’s only Democratic governor, said on his monthly radio show as it became clear his bill rejections would be sustained.

Still, Republican leader Rep. Blake Miguez said the GOP “made strides” toward greater legislative independence simply by breaking decades of tradition and holding the veto session.

The transgender sports ban spurred the unprecedented gathering, after winning bipartisan backing in the regular session. Republican legislators said they heard an overwhelming outcry from Louisiana residents who wanted a law prohibiting transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams of their identified gender.

The House GOP's inability to cobble together the needed votes came two days after Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder told reporters he was “comfortable 100%” that his chamber had the support for the override.

But the House vote Wednesday was 68-30. It needed 70 votes to pass. The Senate on Tuesday voted 26-12 to override the bill rejection, the bare minimum needed for the override. Those votes were fewer than the support the bill had when it originally passed. But Edwards put a strong effort behind sustaining his vetoes, calling back his former gubernatorial campaign manager, who now lives in Washington, to help defeat the overrides.

Supporters described the ban sponsored by Franklinton Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican, as protecting girls across K-12 schools and colleges from unfair competition, and the bill was called the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” They said transgender athletes have an automatic, built-in advantage in competitions against other females.

“Respecting biological differences is not discrimination. It’s not hate,” said Rep. Laurie Schlegel, the Metairie Republican who handled the bill in the House. She urged her colleagues: “Be courageous. Fight like a girl and vote to override this veto.”

The legislation is similar to bans passed by Republican-led legislatures in several states, such as Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Florida.

Opponents said the measure enshrines discrimination into state law.

Edwards said the veto override would have risked making Louisiana lose NCAA sporting events or large conventions for a problem that does not exist.

“The last thing you want to do is to lose those major events in exchange for a bill that doesn’t change anything on the ground in Louisiana. It just isn’t happening,” the governor said.

New Orleans Rep. Royce Duplessis, who spoke on behalf of the opposition in the House, said the legislation will make life more difficult for vulnerable children with higher rates of suicide and depression, and he noted that bill backers could not point to a single example of a Louisiana-specific problem.

“This is nothing more than a manufactured wedge issue,” he said. “This bill will not protect our girls. This bill will only further ostracize and alienate our state’s most vulnerable.”

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has enacted the equivalent of a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams.

Duplessis also suggested the legislation could open the door to invasive biological examinations for female athletes accused of being transgender.

One Republican in the House, Rep. Joe Stagni of Kenner, broke ranks and voted against the veto override. One Democrat, Rep. Francis Thompson of Delhi, supported overturning the governor's bill rejection.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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