BATON ROUGE– As the legislature adjourned Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards expressed his support for the investments in education and infrastructure, including a teacher pay raise of $1,500 and $300 million toward a new Mississippi River bridge.
But he also announced that he would acquiesce in one area that he has disagreed with Republican lawmakers, saying he would allow a bill that prohibits transgender athletes from competing according to their gender identity to become law without his signature.
Edwards vetoed a similar measure last year, but he said that he decided not to veto the latest ban, Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, because he knew that the legislature could override the veto this time.
“I hope we can all get to a point soon where we realize that these young people are doing the very best that they can to survive,” Edwards said.
As the session’s 6 p.m. deadline approached, legislators spent the day debating, rewriting, and passing some of the remaining bills.
Among the high profile bills to be adopted was House Bill 746, sponsored by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans.
The bill would prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juvenile offenders except as a temporary response for behavior that poses a physical threat to another’s safety.
The bill as reported by a conference committee with members from both chambers was approved by the House on an 84-11 vote and the Senate 32-0.
House Bill 729, also by Duplessis, was similarly green-lit. The bill would limit the use of an individual’s booking photograph on a website if he or she were acquitted of the criminal charge.
The bill provides exceptions when releasing mugshots will assist in reducing the threat posed by an individual or when the individual is charged with a violent crime, sex offense or certain other charges.
The bill as reported by a conference committee was approved by the House on a 67-27 vote and the Senate on a 32-0 vote.
The legislature also signed off on conference changes to a bill that would allow for misdemeanor penalties for entities that discriminated based on COVID vaccine status.
House Bill 54, sponsored by Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, was originally intended to allow for jail time and fines for anybody who does not allow an unvaccinated individual onto a premises. The bill originally applied to any vaccine.
Over the course of the session, the bill was amended to only allow for fines and apply to the COVID-19 vaccine only. Lawmakers also narrowed the scope to not apply to private businesses who seek proof of vaccination.
The conference changes passed the House on a 58-32 vote and the Senate 27-5.
Among the bills left unconsidered was one that would allow public school teachers to carry a concealed firearm on school grounds.
House Bill 37, sponsored by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, was originally intended to allow for adults 21 and older to conceal carry a firearm without training or a permit. The bill was heavily amended in a Senate committee to strike that language from the bill and add in the language allowing for armed teachers.
In his post-session remarks, Edwards pushed back on the idea that McCormick’s proposal was a “constitutional carry” bill, arguing that if people truly thought they had the constitutional right to carry a firearm without a permit, they would fight for that right in the courts, not pass a law.
Also left by the wayside was House Bill 195, a bill from Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, that would require public schools to provide free menstrual products to students.
Freeman’s proposal passed the House in May but was never heard in the Senate.
The legislature found itself in a unique position this year. For years, the state faced budget problems, at times teetering on the edge of a $2 billion fiscal cliff. Due to hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state revenues and billions in federal pandemic aid, Louisiana is flush with cash, giving lawmakers a once-in-a-political-lifetime chance to fund their priorities.
The financial boon made it easier for Edwards, a Democrat, and the Republican-led legislature to agree on the budget. Edwards ultimately vetoed just five lines from multiple extensive budget bills. He used his vetoes to provide for higher education.
Edwards initially requested $31.7 million for faculty pay, or about a 5% pay raise for higher education faculty. The Senate whittled that amount down to $21.2 million, or about a 3% raise. Edwards used his vetoes to move money around in the budget to restore the original amount.
Edwards and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, both noted after the session ended that the legislature was able to dedicate most of the financial windfall to one-time projects rather than ongoing programs.
On Sunday, the legislature gave final passage to a bill that would enhance the criminal penalties for abortion providers under the state’s trigger laws, which immediately ban and criminalize abortion upon the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
Edwards has said that he would prefer exceptions for rape and incest, which the bill does not include. Edwards has previously signed legislation that does not include those exceptions.