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State lawmakers say overriding Edwards' veto is likely in the Senate, but what about the House?

Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana

With the start of the 2022 regular session just days away, state legislative leaders said they may have the votes needed to execute the state’s first veto override in nearly 30 years to force their controversial congressional redistricting proposal into law.

In an online panel discussion hosted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana on Friday, Senate President Page Cortez said he thinks the Senate will likely vote to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the two identical congressional map proposals the Republican-dominated legislature passed last month.

The maps failed to create the second majority-Black congressional district civil rights groups argue that the state needs to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. In his veto message, Edwards said it was inherently unfair for Louisiana, a state with a 33% Black population and six congressional districts, to provide only one congressional district where Black voters stand a chance of electing the candidate of their choice.

Cortez said he thinks it is likely that state lawmakers will convene a veto session on March 23, when they will already be gathered in Baton Rouge for this year’s regular legislative session. He expects the Republican supermajority in the Senate would vote to override Edwards’ veto.

“Given that we have 27 votes in the Senate, and 26 is the barrier to override, I suspect that the Senate would probably move to override,” Cortez said.

The real question is whether Republicans in the state House of Representatives will be able to secure the 70 votes they need for a veto override. The GOP controls 68 House seats, so any veto override would require the support of two Democrats or Independents.

House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee (R-Houma) described it as the “million-dollar question.”

Veto override votes are extremely rare in Louisiana. The last successful veto override was in 1993, and state law makes it difficult to attempt a veto override during a typical legislative session. Governors in Louisiana have always wielded significant influence over the legislature, and until recently, the opposing party never controlled enough seats to stand a chance of overriding a governor’s veto.

State law requires that a veto session be called 40 days after a legislative session is adjourned unless a simple majority of either chamber sends in a written request that the session be canceled.

For decades lawmakers voted not to convene a veto session as a matter of tradition and convenience.

That changed last year when Republican leaders in the House and Senate capitalized on their landslide of state legislative victories in 2019 and called the first veto session in state history. They attempted to override Edwards’ veto of several controversial bills, including a proposed ban of transgender girls from school sports and a measure that would allow permitless carry of concealed firearms.

The override effort failed, and Edwards’ ability to sustain his vetoes was seen as an indicator of his ability to influence the redistricting process.

But nearly eight months later, Edwards’ political footing is much shakier.

Each of the identical congressional map proposals that were passed on the final day of last month’s redistricting session won some bipartisan support, but neither earned the 70 “yea” votes that would be needed for an override.

Three Republicans, Reps. Beryl Amedee, Blake Miguez and Gabe Firment, all voted against the maps citing concerns over how their home parishes were split by district lines.

Magee said he believes those three could be brought back into the fold. Rep. Francis Thompson, a Democrat, voted for the GOP maps last month and has already indicated that he would vote to override the veto, theoretically leaving House Republicans just one vote short of what they would need for the historic veto override.

Two of the three Independent representatives in the House voted for the GOP-backed maps, but neither has stated their position on a potential override vote.

Rep. Sam Jenkins, the only Democratic lawmaker to participate in the panel discussion, said he thinks the disgruntled Republican House members may not be so easily swayed and could help his party sustain a veto.

“I do think you have some people on the other side of the aisle who have some serious concerns about the congressional map and what’s happening in the districts where they live,” Jenkins said. “That does give me hope.”

Either way, Jenkins expects the matter to be settled in court.

“Veto, no veto — I don’t think that brings finality to this discussion, and I think it’s something that the courts are going to have to look at,” Jenkins said.

A coalition of civil rights groups is expected to file a lawsuit asking the federal courts to intervene in the state’s redistricting effort, and could do so as early as next week.

Magee said a judicial order would likely be the only way the state gains a second majority-Black congressional district this redistricting cycle.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have enough support for a map that the governor will sign at the end of the day,” Magee said. “That’s just the reality of the [House] chamber.”

Paul Braun is WRKF's Capitol Access reporter.