BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana House lawmakers Wednesday failed to overturn Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto of legislation banning transgender athletes from school sports teams, a significant blow to Republican-led efforts to enact the new law in an historic veto session that has seen no bill rejections overridden so far.
While the Senate narrowly agreed to the veto override, the House fell two votes short of the needed 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.
Edwards learned of the failure while on the air for his monthly radio show. He said the veto override would have risked making Louisiana lose major sporting events or 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.
The Republicans' failure came in an unprecedented veto session, the first time under the nearly 50-year-old constitution that lawmakers came back to the Louisiana Capitol to consider enacting bills a governor had rejected. The prior two veto overrides in the 1990s happened in a regular session when lawmakers already were in the building.
Republican-led efforts to reverse Edwards' spurning of other measures — including a bill to loosen the rules for carrying concealed handguns in Louisiana — also failed to gain enough support for passage.
The transgender sports ban was a driving force behind the historic veto session, after winning bipartisan veto-proof 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 needed 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.
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.
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, the Deep South's only Democratic governor, said the legislation will make life more difficult for vulnerable children with higher rates of suicide, and he noted that bill backers could not point to a single example of a Louisiana-specific problem. He said passage of the law would threaten Louisiana's ability to attract big events, a point argued by business organization leaders from Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
"Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana," Edwards said in his veto announcement.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association already has enacted the equivalent of a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams.
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