House narrowly sustains veto of transgender sports ban; session adjourns

Louisiana State Capitol
Photo by Travis Gauthier

After short arguments by one representative each for and against the resolution to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a bill barring transgender girls from competing in youth sports, the House of Representatives voted to sustain the veto Wednesday afternoon by a two-vote margin.

Two hours later, the House and Senate adjourned sine die, having failed to override a single one of Edwards’ 28 vetoed bills or line-item vetoes of capital outlay expenditures.

The vote on the controversial transgender sports bill, SB156 by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, was 68-30—two short of the two thirds, or 70 votes, required in the 105-member House to override a veto. This has happened rarely in Louisiana history and never before the override of Gov. Buddy Roemer’s veto of an abortion bill in 1991. This was the first time the Legislature had called itself into session solely to override gubernatorial vetoes.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to override the veto of the transgender sports bill by a bare 26-12. Lafayette Parish’s two Republican senators, Senate President Page Cortez and Bob Hensgens, voted to override; Democrat Gerald Boudreaux voted to sustain.

The House had passed the bill on May 27 by a seemingly veto-proof 78-19. Lafayette’s five Republican representatives—Beau Beaullieu, Stuart Bishop, Jean-Paul Coussan, Julie Emerson and Gerald Goudeau—all voted for it and voted again Wednesday to override the veto. Democrat Vincent Pierre voted against the bill and to sustain the veto. Democrat Marcus Bryant, who represents parts of Lafayette and Iberia parishes, was absent for the May 27 vote but voted to sustain the veto on Wednesday.

“I believed it was the right thing to keep fairness in women’s sports,” Emerson texted The Current. “I believed it when I voted for the bill originally, when I voted to override the veto, and I still believe it now. The emails and calls at my office in support of overriding this bill were overwhelming, and it was absolutely clear that my district supported this bill and this override.”

Pierre and Coussan did not respond to email requests for their comments.

Another controversial bill on the session’s agenda, SB118 by Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, which would have removed the nine-hour training class as a requirement for a concealed handgun permit, fell three votes short of the necessary two-thirds in the Senate Tuesday, 23-15. Cortez and Hensgens voted to override, Boudreaux to sustain.

The key to sustaining the governor’s veto of the transgender sports bill were nine Democrats, both white conservatives and Black liberals, who were recorded as voting for SB156 on May 27 but voted to sustain the veto Wednesday after intense lobbying by the Democratic governor. They were: Robby Carter of Amite, Wilford Carter of Lake Charles, Chad Brown of Plaquemine, Mack Cormier of Belle Chasse, Jason Hughes of New Orleans, Travis Johnson of Vidalia, Jeremy LaCombe of Livonia, Pat Moore of Monroe and Francis Thompson of Delhi. Two other Democrats who had voted for the bill, Kenny Cox of Natchitoches and Malinda White of Bogalusa, were absent Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Stagni of Kenner was the only Republican to vote against the bill in May and to sustain the veto Wednesday.

In his veto message on June 29, Edwards listed three reasons. “This bill will not be signed into law because it is targeted, unfairly, at children,” he wrote. . . “Secondly, this bill is not a real solution nor is there a real problem. . . Lastly, it is clear that if this bill were to become law, it would have a major effect on the economy of Louisiana. Many national conventions and conferences have made it clear that they may not select Louisiana as a destination if this bill were to be signed.”

He specifically cited a threat by the NCAA to move the 2022 Final Four from New Orleans.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Laurie Schlegel, R-Metairie, rebutted Edwards’ reasons from the front mic Wednesday.

“He said it is divisive. Well, our state is united. Our citizens overwhelmingly believe that men should not compete in women’s sports,” she said. 

As for the threat of boycotts, she said, “It is unbelievable to me that we would let any outside organization hold this state hostage.” She argued that the Louisiana High School Athletic Association has fully supported the bill.

Speaking in favor of upholding the veto was Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, who argued that the bill would “open the door to harassment and invasion of privacy” of transgender girls.

He rejected the argument that the bill is designed to protect girls. “Not only is this bill unnecessary, but I can assure you that it does not protect our girls,” he said.

Duplessis also argued that the bill would trigger lawsuits, such as one in Idaho where a similar law was struck down by a court, and that the LHSAA already has such a ban.

“This bill is not about fairness in competition in sports,” he said in closing. “If it’s about fairness, then why doesn’t it ban transgender boys from competing with girls?”

After Schlegel closed on the bill, Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee, R-Houma, abruptly moved to call the question, meaning to shut off further discussion and take the vote, which caused some members to object from the back mic. Speaker Clay Schexnayder called for a vote on calling the question, and the House voted 57-29 to cut off debate, which may have backfired on supporters of an override.

When the vote to override failed, Schexnayder, who voted to override, looked stunned and called for a “15-minute recess” that lasted more than two hours. When the House came back into session, it was only to adjourn sine die.