What could have turned out to be a session-defining game of chicken fell flat, due to poor legislative leadership more interested in avoiding conflict than in promoting the goals of the Republican majority, reflecting voters’ wishes.
A number of important bills muscled their way through the two chambers despite the lukewarm support given, if not outright hostility displayed to them, by GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Sen. Pres. Page Cortez. Although leaders have discretion in the fate of bills, such as in point of order rulings, committee assignments of members and (in the case of some bills) bill disposition, and in timing when to move legislation, when an overwhelming portion of the majority party membership wants something to pass, they can’t stop it.
But if they concede to do the bidding of the governor, they can find a way to sabotage such bills from becoming law. The surest way uses methods to slow down bill passage just enough so that a bill doesn’t go to the governor for signature or veto within 15 days prior to the end of the session. This is because bills passed in identical form have three days for transmission to the governor, ten days for gubernatorial decision (failing to veto within that span makes the bill law), and if vetoed two days for transmission back to the chamber.
This year, that meant effectively May 27 marked the deadline to send things to Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to have bills back in time for a veto override attempt (using ordinary legislative rules). Anything later and Edwards could hold on long enough to stuff so that the session would end and force an unprecedented veto override session to take place to rectify his actions. These haven’t ever happened because such a session would drag members back to meet at the time of year least convenient, and especially this year with a reapportionment special session looming not long afterwards.
A review of the Louisiana Legislature Log’s listing of good bills (slightly different since original publication) presents a menu for seeing how Schexnayder and Cortez treated such bills. From this list, HB 20, HB 103, HB 167, HB 256, HB 352, HB 498, HB 704, SB 118, SB 156, SB 220, and SB 224 were bills whose votes suggested they had such GOP support that these could muster two-thirds majorities to override a veto, yet in the process had significant opposition from Democrats, including for some bills imparted from public statements from them including Edwards. These instruments should have been candidates to send early to Edwards.
But only HB 20 went to him by the deadline. All the others missed it by at least a few days, with most going to him this only week. He already has vetoed HB 20, with an override vote on it possible today, and he almost certainly will do the same to most of the other ten.
The remainder didn’t have to be slow-walked. Strong, committed leadership could have kickstarted the process early to resolve any quibbles within the party to send them out in time. Indifferent leadership ensued instead.
Many states with Republican legislative majorities similar in size to Louisiana’s passed laws similar to many of these – in a few cases over a governor’s veto – because they had the necessary leadership to see through the people’s business. The poor excuses for leadership embodied by Cortez and Schexnayder fall well short of living up to that standard.