On Monday, we learn whether the Louisiana Legislature will reconvene on Saturday and attempt to override one of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 29 vetoes.
What is evident in the days leading up to the return of the legislative polls is that there will not be enough shows to successfully cancel anything. Enough members have work obligations, military duties, surgeries and vacations that the number of people who can return to Baton Rouge is dangerously close to the two-thirds majorities in each house needed to overturn the governor’s rejection and turn a bill vetoed in law.
Where practice clashes with philosophy is the first step: whether to come together anyway. Under the state Constitution, the waiver session automatically begins unless 53 Representatives or 20 Senators return ballots saying it is unnecessary.
“Clearly the votes are not there in either the House or the Senate for a waiver,” Senate Speaker Page Cortez R-Lafayette told The Advocate | The Times Picayune. “That being said, it does not prevent us from entering if enough members do not send in ballots.”
“It doesn’t negate, in my view, that we should have veto sessions,” said Republican Rep. Jack McFarland of Winnfield, leader of the 42-member Conservative caucus. He said calling a waiver session, which would cost more than $100,000 a day, sets precedent worthy of a legislature just emerging from generations of subservience to the chief executive of the state.
Although right-wing radio hosts and bloggers want to rub Edwards’ nose in a waiver of the veto, McFarland thinks the philosophical reasons for the summons should trump partisan politics.
As a legislative leader, McFarland regularly attends conferences with legislators from other states and asks them about what they are doing. They tell him that waiver sessions are routine, he says, regardless of which party controls that state’s general assembly and the governor’s mansion.
“That’s the direction Louisiana is going and that’s the direction we should be going,” McFarland said Thursday.
The state constitution lists only two regular legislative sessions: the one held each year and the veto waiver rally that follows 40 days later.
Only in the past two years have Louisiana lawmakers opposed the governor and called waiver sessions. Part of the reason is that, unlike other states, Louisiana’s governor wields outsized power. When in 2016 Edwards, newly installed as the sole Democratic governor of the Deep South, sought to follow his predecessors and appoint his own Speaker of the House and Speaker of the Senate, the Republican majority rebelled and elected its own leaders.
The legislature tends towards more independence every year. Doing a veto override session routine is an integral part of that continuum, McFarland argues.
McFarland said he heard from advocates on all sides angry that their legislative ideas were rejected. For example, he said, the Baptist Church wants lawmakers to reverse Edwards’ refusal to prevent emergency regulations that are more restrictive on churches than those imposed on other entities. Edwards wrote that the federal law would reverse any state effort to treat churches better than secular businesses.
Nineteen of the 29 bills defeated by Edwards passed with more, usually far more, than the 70 House votes and 26 Senate votes needed for a waiver.
“If the bill was good enough to pass three times, then why isn’t it good enough for a fourth time to override the veto,” McFarland said. “Strictly on how many Republicans can come, we will be short. But most of these bills got 90% support, 80% support, bipartisan support. Where has this bipartisan support gone? Are we back to partisan politics over legislation that almost everyone agreed would improve life in this state? »
This is the partisan part where McFarland’s arguments venture on thin ice. In his eight years, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed 143 bills — most of which also passed with veto-proof bipartisan support. Never has the legislative majority of the GOP flirted with reconvening to reconsider these vetoes. (After seven years in office, Edwards vetoed 102 instruments.)
Still, McFarland said he couldn’t blame lawmakers for not wanting to come forward for what would likely be a fruitless effort. Personally, he has a habit of throwing off the jeans and t-shirt ensemble he wears in Winnfield, where his company harvests lumber, and donning the required tie in Baton Rouge.
“Each member has to decide individually,” he said.