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Even with improved odds, override session unlikely

While threats of a veto override session may ring in the air from a relatively wide swath of legislators, even increased chances this year of one occurring mean instead of being extremely unlikely to happen, it’s merely very unlikely to occur.

The Constitution provides for an automatic override session held by the Legislature, unless a majority of members in at least one chamber calls it off by sending in a ballot to their presiding officer stating as such within 35 days after the end of the regular session. This never has happened in the four decades under this version of the Constitution.

Two factors tend to discourage the impulse to have one of these sessions. One is the override requirement of two-thirds majorities in each chamber. With just a pair of vetoes ever overridden during regular sessions in these 40 years, governors have shown they have figured out when to cast vetoes that stick because of the extra votes needed beyond passage or those needed that allow an override session to happen. So even as it matters to have a majority wishing to override vetoes, unless they know they can pull in additional supporters for the override votes that are unlikely to come from those who sent in ballots to cancel the thing, having an extra session is useless.

This is compounded by the fact the session is costly both to taxpayers and legislators. Lawmakers would have to interrupt their lives for a few days – if not their regular jobs if they have them but also perhaps cancelling scheduled summertime leisure activities maybe centered around families – while costing the state starting at over $16,000 a day in per diem payments to them and going up from there. And if nothing gets overridden, then they have opened themselves up to charges of wasting taxpayer dollars on themselves.

Not that the decision to go for a session gets lackluster support. In fact, typically there’s always a critical mass of support for a session when, as is currently the case and has been since 2004 except for a couple of years, one party controls both majoritarian branches of government, from the minority party. Last year, the House actually technically approved of a session by one vote, on the strength of 37 Democrats requesting.

But the trick is to get majority party members to supplement, which occurs either out of laziness in returning ballots that happens when they think it’s going to be cancelled regardless, or because enough of them have gotten riled over individual vetoes over entire bills or with line items. The laziness factor (which probably explains most of the more than dozen House GOP held ballots of last year) practically disappears when it’s not obvious a session won’t be held (last year, well before the time limit was up a large number of senators made known they had sent in ballots), so finding enough disaffected majority party members is the key.

It’s possible, in that different members can be upset by different vetoes cast by Gov. Bobby Jindal. For example, with his axing of HB 516 by Democrat state Rep. Walt Leger that would have expanded the footprint of New Orleans’ convention center authority both in jurisdiction and revenue-raising, this might perturb area Republicans. Or there is his rejection of SB 50 by state Sen. Dale Erdey of a special financing arrangement benefitting a Livingston Parish development that might rile Erdey and other area Republicans. And in HB 1 a number of line item vetoes of programs might be enough to irritate their GOP backers, given an enthusiastic prodding, into action. So if enough vetoes are out there that separately affect different legislators detrimentally enough in terms of constituent agitation and/or in crossing their belief systems, then a session could happen.

However, as override session supporters concede, that dynamic does not seem to be present sufficiently this year. Further, because of the supermajority requirement, more than just the requisite logrolling among those legislators with a stake in vetoed things that could stop a session cancellation need to be convinced to override anything. So, does a rural North Louisiana representative, for example, even though the House voted unanimously for SB 50, really want to go to the wall just to give a tax break to a developer that would siphon money out of the general fund that might otherwise go to his district – especially when the governor and others will be telling the world about his vote?

Given the somewhat rebellious mood (although not a whole lot of actual rebellion outside of stuffing more money into the budget) of legislators this year, perhaps encouraged by a slide in Jindal’s popularity ratings as the toll of changing the state’s political culture mounts, maybe the chances of getting an override session are better than they have been in a long time, if ever. But if even halving the odds from last year, they were so long to begin with that it’s still rather unlikely to occur.

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