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As the deadline approaches, Gov. Edwards says overriding veto of transgender bill would be costly

Mayor Latoya Cantrell backs Gov. John Bel Edwards veto of SB 156
Louisiana State Capitol/File
Louisiana State Capitol/File
Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 10:07 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2021 at 7:33 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Thursday at midnight will determine if state lawmakers hold a veto override session next week that is expected to target a bill Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed that involves transgender student-athletes.

The governor and his administration think if lawmakers override his veto of Senate Bill 156 that will put New Orleans’ hosting of the 2022 Final Four in jeopardy. But many Republican state lawmakers believe the governor’s veto should be overturned and that the legislation become law.

Legislators have to respond by ballot by Thursday’s deadline on whether they want the override session to occur.

Jay Dardenne, a former lieutenant governor, and ex-legislator is Edwards’ commissioner of administration. He said putting the Final Four at risk could have financial consequences for the state.

“Purely, from an economic standpoint if you read what the NCAA had to say about this it’s pretty clear that it would be considered discrimination and therefore the Final Four next year could potentially be at risk,” said Dardenne.

Edwards wrote a letter to Senate President Page Cortez about his decision to veto the bill. It underscored the concerns about the NCAA and the Final Four.

Edwards also wrote in the letter, “This bill will not be signed into law because it is targeted, unfairly at children. This legislation will make life more difficult for children who are going through unique challenges gaining acceptance into their schools, communities, and sometimes even their own families.”

But state Senator Kirk Talbot, a Republican who represents Jefferson Parish in the legislature believes the override session should occur and he is ready to vote to override Edwards’ decision to block the transgender sports bill.

“I think it’s going to be a very big issue. I have seen overwhelming emails and phone calls to my office in River Ridge from male, female athletes, coaches, parents, people in and outside the district,” said Talbot. “I’ll be honest I’ve never seen anything like it, like the correspondence we’re getting in favor of overturning the veto.”

In April, the NCAA issued a statement saying in part, “The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports...When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected.”

And in an exchange of emails less than a week between Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, and Dawn Buth, of the NCAA, Buth said the NCAA’s position had not changed.

“The April 12 statement we shared remains the Board’s most current thinking on this issue,” she said.

Dardenne said he also had no indication the NCAA’s stance had changed.

“No, to the contrary, I’ve seen the same emails I think that you’re referring to and I’ve read what the NCAA has said about this issue,” said Dardenne when asked about the communications.

He also reiterated concerns the state could be hurt by having such legislation become law.

“It’s pretty clear that the NCAA is going to frown upon a state who enacts legislation like this and it would mean a serious economic loss to the state,” said Dardenne.

Talbot is ready to cast a vote to override the governor on the bill.

“I supported the bill. I will be voting to override the veto,” Talbot stated.

Still, he is concerned about possible economic fallout for the state.

“For the NCAA not to stand behind Title IX and behind women in female sports is a little disconcerting,” said Talbot.

He also commented on concerns that other major events might spurn the state if the bill becomes law.

“I’m in the tourism business and it’s very concerning but I would like to think that you know, there’s also maybe people scheduling conventions that are glad that we’re standing up for women and standing behind women and standing up for Title IX,” said Talbot.

Michael Hecht leads GNO, Inc., which works to bring more economic development to the region.

He is concerned about the possible impact of such legislation.

“There are a couple of risks, particularly as we have businesses and tourism striving to come out of COVID: the first is the loss of sporting events, first and foremost being the Final Four which is scheduled to happen in 2022 which has an economic impact of over $170 million, it brings in tens of thousands of fans and really priceless PR to us,” said Hecht.

He said the impact of having such a law could go beyond the Final Four.

“Then beyond that, there’s a question of how this is going to impact companies and particularly younger workers who are making choices based in some degree on decisions like this between various states,” Hecht said.

Hecht was asked if GNO, Inc., is actively lobbying against an override vote on the governor’s veto.

“We’re trying to educate people on what the potential negative consequences of this could be from an economic perspective. We recognize that this is a complex issue and that there are viewpoints on both sides that we absolutely respect here,” Hecht replied.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell issued the following statement in support of the governor’s veto of the bill:

“The fact is the legislature passed SB 156 despite having no evidence that participation by trans athletes has caused an issue in Louisiana, and in the face of the very real possibility of economic boycotts. New Orleans is a welcoming city, with no place for discrimination. We stand firmly with our trans brothers, sisters, and siblings against this hateful bill. Governor Edwards was right to veto SB 156 and we urge legislators to let that veto stand. To target children in this way is simply unconscionable. And as the Mayor of New Orleans, let me say this to the trans youth in our community: no matter what laws the legislature passes, you will always be loved and accepted here in New Orleans.”

Override votes at the state capitol are rare.

According to Cory Stewart, Chief Communications Officer for the legislature, since 1966 when Louisiana law was changed to allow for a Veto Override Session, there has never been such a session called for the Legislature to vote on bills vetoed by the Governor.

However, the legislature has overturned two vetoes in the 1990s while lawmakers were still in regular session, but not in a special veto session.

“To be in a standalone session, you know, nobody knows what to expect, so I think the transgender bill, I think that has the most highest success rate but everything that was vetoed, even line-item vetoes in the budget and in the capital outlay infrastructure projects bill, all of that is on the agenda,” Talbot said.

The Louisiana Athletic Association already has what amounts to a prohibition on transgender athletes participating on high school sports teams.

“So, it’s not an active issue today in the state,” said Hecht.

Dardenne said the administration is communicating with legislators in hopes of avoiding the veto session altogether.

“Obviously, the administration has been talking to legislators and expressing their view, our view of that this session should not take place and if it does the hopes that the legislators will not override the governor’s veto on this bill or several of the other bills that are being considered potentially in our session,” he said.

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