Louisiana GOP lawmakers force a special session to pass an anti-trans sports bill

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Louisiana Republican lawmakers want to override Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto of a trans sports ban.

Despite Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' veto of such legislation last month, Louisiana Republicans aren't ready to give up on passing a bill that targets transgender athletes.

Louisiana lawmakers are holding a veto override session this week for the first time as Republicans try to enact S.B. 156, a bill that would ban transgender girls and boys from playing on the school sports team of their gender.

The bill was passed by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Louisiana legislature in May. When he vetoed it on June 22, Edwards said, "As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana."

Under the Louisiana Constitution, which was adopted in 1974, the rejection of legislation by the governor automatically triggers a veto session. However, before this year, lawmakers in the Legislature had voted to cancel every single such session.

This year, not enough Louisiana lawmakers submitted ballots in either the House or the Senate to declare the veto override session unnecessary, with most Republicans allowing the session to proceed.

The session, which will begin on Tuesday and last for five days, will focus on the trans sports bill along with legislation to strip away training requirements for the concealed carry of guns, NBC New Orleans affiliate WDSU reported.

Louisiana Senate President Patrick Page Cortez (R) stated in an announcement, "The majority of Senators have heard from their constituents who have asked them to take votes on the veto override. It has become clear that the majority of Senators felt compelled to return for the veto session based on constituent feedback."

Although the legislature can review any legislation vetoed by Edwards, the Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge reported that the "only issue specifically mentioned" by both Cortez and Louisiana House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R) is the trans sports legislation.

Woody Jenkins, the chairman of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party, told the Advocate, "It probably is not, maybe, the most important thing in terms of how government functions but it is a statement about our moral basis in our country and just where we want to stand."

The Associated Press reported in March that most lawmakers who proposed trans sports bills in state legislatures across the country couldn't provide a single example of how transgender athletes were harming cisgender athletes.

The text of S.B. 156 says that if it passed, it would be effective on Aug. 1. It also provides for private causes of action: Cisgender students, school coaches, and school board members may initiate legal action if they experience some kind of retaliation or harm for reporting a violation of the law.

Louisiana Family Forum, one of 31 state Family Policy Councils associated with the Family Research Council, indicated it will be watching to see if lawmakers who voted for the sports ban the first time around vote for it a second time.

Rev. Gene Mills, the executive director of the group, told the Advocate, "Any incongruence on those votes will need to be accompanied with a valid explanation."

Dylan Waguespack, president of the board of directors of Louisiana Trans Advocates, told the American Independent Foundation that while Louisiana Family Forum is often successful at generating many issue-related emails and comments from the public to legislators, the emails themselves can be "low-quality." When lawmakers say they're getting a lot of communication from constituents, Waguespack said, some of it may be driven by the group.

"Their specialty is making legislators fear their constituents by creating this sort of tidal wave of emails, usually using the same sort of one-line or two-line message over and over and over again that they obviously drafted as an automatic part of whatever form they put together and send out," Waguespack said.

He added, "I think in 2021, people are looking for more than that and can also tell the difference between the actual mobilization of their constituents versus just having a big email list."

Waguespack said it's unclear whether lawmakers who support of the bill will have the votes to override the veto when the time comes.

 "I don't think that they do at this time," he said, adding, "A vote against overriding the governor's veto could be about more than politics. Regular session moves fast and there isn't enough time for legislators to make a deeply informed decision. We would expect that some legislators would have a different view of this bill after these past few weeks of education and debate." 

National anti-LGBTQ groups have pushed trans sports bans and other legislation targeting transgender youth, including prohibitions on gender-affirming health care for transgender kids, in legislatures throughout the country this year.

In March, speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference frequently spread anti-trans equality messages, including opposition to transgender girls and women playing on girls' and women's sports teams, as have some members of Congress, including Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO).

Trans sports bans were passed by the legislatures of Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, Montana, Alabama, and West Virginia this year. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed two executive orders implementing a ban in March. Last year, Idaho enacted the first trans sports ban in the United States but it was blocked by a U.S. District Judge in August from going into effect.

Louisiana isn't the only state where Republicans are reviving anti-trans bills that didn't pass the in other sessions. The Texas Legislature is reconsidering a trans sports ban in its current special legislative session. It failed in the regular session after Democratic lawmakers blocked a vote on the bill through procedural actions.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.