Louisiana Veto Session

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder waits to hear results of votes in the Senate Chambers during a veto session in Baton Rouge, La., Tuesday, July 20, 2021. Louisiana state senators have narrowly voted to overturn Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' rejection of a bill prohibiting transgender students from participating in school sports. The vote came Tuesday on the opening day of the first veto session under the state's nearly 50-year-old constitution. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said Monday that he was “100% confident” he had the votes needed to overturn a veto of a bill that banned transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports. 

The next day, the Louisiana legislature embarked on its first veto session in modern history, and the day after that, Schexnayder’s proclamation dissolved as the trans sports ban died in the House. Having passed with an exact super-majority of 26 to 12 in the Senate, it missed the two-thirds support required in the House by just two votes. 

“This bill will not protect our girls,” said Rep. Royce Duplessis of New Orleans in a stirring speech. “This bill will only further ostracize and alienate our state’s most vulnerable and marginalized children. Children who suffer from extraordinary levels of depression, abuse, suicide, and violent attacks – which often, very often, end in death.”

Though this bill could be rejected on moral grounds alone, opposing lawmakers noted that it could also have an adverse economic impact on the state, driving away sports events and other businesses.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, pointing out the hypocrisy of her Republican colleagues. “You either want businesses to come to Louisiana or you want to discriminate.”

The debate wasn’t all that was eventful in the capitol. In a disturbing display on the first day of session, protestors against the anti-trans bill were shoved and dragged out of the chambers, all seemingly without any verbal warning. The second day, LSU graduate student Jessie Fay Parrott was forcibly removed for standing silently with two cardboard signs, one of which read “trans girls are girls.”

Parrott described guards twisting her wrists, kicking her ankles and spraining her shoulder. “I was escorted outside the capitol after being booked, searched in the system, put on a watch list and recorded with the BRPD and state troopers,” Parrott said. “I do not feel welcome in the capitol because of the way law enforcement conduct themselves.”

A legislature where those peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights are met with excessive force and punishment is not a people’s house. 

Later Wednesday, sine die was declared and the brief but hectic session ended without a single override of Edwards’ 28 vetoes. The session had primarily been called to overturn vetoes on the trans sports ban and another bill that would allow residents to conceal carry without a permit, background check or training.

In a GOP-led legislature housing many conservative Democrats, sustaining the governor’s vetoes was no small task. It is because of the tireless labor of advocates that these dangerous bills failed to pass. Edwards’ political will to fight hard for the vetoes also contributed to this success.

But though common sense and justice ultimately prevailed, the session itself spells out the darkness that permeates Louisiana politics. 

It is heartbreaking that young people had to come to the state capitol to beg for basic dignity and consideration from their legislators, and it is troubling how many lawmakers fanatically embraced far-right rhetoric and policy, whether it be on trans rights or guns.

The culture war stoked by Republicans in Washington, D.C. is burning in Baton Rouge, and it’s not going anywhere.

Louisiana is a state plagued with chronic issues that desperately require attention from public officials. Over a quarter of Louisiana children live in poverty. The state ranks dead last in education. Rampant air pollution brings increased cancer rates to industrial communities. Wetlands are rapidly disappearing. Natural disasters repeatedly pummel the coast.

But many elected officials evidently prefer scoring political points over solving the ever-worsening problems that actually impact the day-to-day life of their constituents. It is unimaginable that lawmakers could turn away from these urgent issues to instead create harmful “solutions” for non-issues. Anti-trans legislators purportedly care a great deal for Louisiana girls and the fairness of their sports, but ask those same legislators to address the food insecurity, poor access to education and inadequate healthcare those children face, and suddenly they have very little to say.

The veto session – and it seems, frankly, much of the regular legislative session – was an enormous waste of time and money. Legislators are supposedly elected to improve the lives of the people in their state, but it seems many of them are more focused on pleasing their donors or winning a manufactured culture war. When the legislature is convened, residents unfortunately have more cause for fear of destruction than hope of improvement. 

So, yes, this veto session was a win for decency. But it won by a difficult, narrow fight – a fight that’s nowhere near over.

Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science sophomore from Southbury, CT.

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