GOP legislative leaders concede votes aren't there to override Governor Edwards' vetoes

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UPDATED on July 7: Republican Baton Rouge Sen. Bodie White is having surgery and won't be able to attend a veto override session if lawmakers choose to convene July 16, further eroding any GOP chance to overturn Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' vetoes.

USA Today Network obtained White's letter to Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette informing him of his absence through a public records request.

White wrote that the "urgency of my health issues dictate my immediate attention to these health matters."

Senate Republicans were already one GOP vote short of the two-thirds needed, 26, to override a veto because Republican Denham Springs Sen. Rogers Pope said he won't vote to overturn any vetoes.

White's absence drops the number of Senate Republicans who would attend a veto override session to 24.

In the House, "five or six" Republicans have previous commitments, according to House Conservative Caucus Chairman Jack McFarland of Winnfield. That could cut Republicans numbers in the House to as few as 63 with 70 votes needed to meet the two-thirds threshold for an override.

Following is the original story first published July 5:

It's becoming increasingly unlikely that Louisiana GOP lawmakers will have the votes to overturn any of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoes if they convene in a special session July 16, making it more likely legislators will opt out of returning to the Capitol.

Veto override sessions are automatic unless a majority of members of the House or Senate send in ballots to opt out.

Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette conceded that GOP lawmakers in both chambers are short of the two-thirds vote needed to overturn any Edwards veto, though he didn't rule out members may still choose to convene.

"Senators have come to realize that neither the House nor the Senate will have the votes necessary to override any bill, so as we move forward it appears a veto override session would be a waste of taxpayers' money," Cortez said in an interview with USA Today Network.

In this 2020 file photo, Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, front, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, rear, conduct a press conference.
In this 2020 file photo, Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, front, and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, rear, conduct a press conference.

"All we've been hearing is the House is short a number of (GOP) members who will be unavailable because of travel or surgery, which makes an override vote even tougher," Cortez said.

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Republican lawmakers have felt increased pressure to come into a veto override session because the House Conservative Caucus led by Chairman Jack McFarland of Winnfield advocated for one.

McFarland said he still believes convening for a veto override session was the right choice, but admitted Republicans are short of the votes needed to overturn any vetoes and said "five or six" GOP members have told them they can't attend.

"If we don't have two-thirds it kind of defeats the purpose (of having a veto override session)," McFarland said. "I'm absolutely concerned because I've heard from a lot of (GOP) members who have pre-planned obligations and I understand that.

"But collectively, the caucus believes a number of the bills vetoed by the governor could fundamentally improve Louisiana if they are enacted into law," he said.

McFarland specifically mentioned bills restricting vaccine mandates, toughening previous criminal justice reforms and allowing parents to take state funding to pay for private education.

The Legislature had always opted out of the sessions before 2021, but last summer lawmakers convened for the first time, though they failed to override any of Edwards' vetoes.

Lawmakers did, however, overturn Edwards' veto of a new congressional map during an override session on March 30 of this year.

Veto overrides require a two-thirds vote in both the House, 70 votes, and Senate, 26 votes.

Republicans hold 69 seats in the House and 26 seats in the Senate, but Republican Sen. Rogers Pope of Denham Springs told USA Today Network he won't vote to overturn any of Edwards' vetoes if lawmakers convene, dropping the Senate one Republican vote short of the threshold.

Lawmakers have a July 11 deadline to return their ballots if they want to opt out of a veto override session.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1. 

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Republicans lack votes to override Edwards' vetoes; session in question