Sam Hanna Jr.

If you are one of those Louisianians who has wished for years for the state Legislature to exhibit some independence from the governor, your wish has come true.

Maybe.

The $64,000 question is whether the Louisiana Legislature is independent enough to override a governor’s veto.

The Republican-dominated Louisiana Legislature of 2020 is not your grandfather’s Legislature. It’s not your father’s Legislature. Heck, it’s not even the Legislature of a year ago when Republicans held a healthy majority in the House and Senate but often failed to stymie a Democrat governor hell bent on growing the size and scope of state government.

Setting the stage for this so-called independence was last fall’s elections when Republicans picked up seats in each legislative chamber, securing a supermajority in the Senate and a near supermajority in the House. Though the outcomes of key legislative races around the state appeared to favor the GOP on paper, there were a handful of political observers, including me, who didn’t believe the Legislature would ever break from its subservience to the executive branch. After all, a Louisiana governor has the legal authority to veto specific appropriations in the state budget and over the years governors have succeeded in keeping the Legislature at bay with the threat of a line-item veto. It’s a powerful sight to behold.

Gov. John Bel Edwards still has the line-item veto, and it’s certainly plausible he could use it to manipulate the legislative process in the weeks ahead, particularly as the state budget takes shape in a special legislative session that’s scheduled to begin as soon as the regular session comes to an end. But what we witnessed last week in the Senate should serve as a wake-up call for those who were happy with the Legislature constantly looking to the governor for permission to move controversial legislation, especially legislation that poked a finger in the governor’s eye.

The legislation in question, of course, was a tort reform bill which Edwards, a trial lawyer himself, quietly opposed. The Senate approved the controversial tort reform bill by a 29-8 margin, or three votes more than needed to override a governor’s veto.

Yet, tort reform was an easy sale. The legislation, championed by the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, promises to lower automobile insurance rates by kneecapping trial lawyers who sue insurance companies for a living. Just about every Republican candidate for the Legislature in 2019 pledged to rein in ambulance-chasing trial lawyers if they were elected, and LABI was waiting in the wings to put their rhetoric to the test.

The House of Representatives will follow the Senate’s lead and easily pass a tort reform bill though the jury is still out on whether Republicans can garner a veto-proof 70 votes in the House to get it done. Let’s assume for a moment that Republicans piece together a supermajority to pass tort reform and the Senate concurs with any changes to the bill it birthed. And Edwards vetoes it.

The question is will a supermajority in the House and Senate vote to override Edwards’ veto? With lobbyists representing LABI standing nearby keeping score.

That’s the test that will tell us whether the Louisiana Legislature is truly independent or still subservient to an all-powerful governor.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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