Republican-led legislature exerts more independence; political analyst says the governor still has power

Legislative Session power play

BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) -There is less than a week left in the regular legislative session at the State Capitol and the Republican-controlled legislature has called itself into a special session that will begin right after the regular session ends on June 1.

Traditionally it’s governors who call special legislative sessions, but not this time.

Robert Collins, Ph.D., is a Dillard University political analyst. He believes the legislature is trying to show its independence.

"We knew that it was going to be a situation where they were going to assert their independence as much as possible in regard to their relationship with the governor,” said Collins. "I think this is them just letting everyone know that they're going to set their own agenda and they're not going to let the governor set their agenda."

By law, a balanced budget must be passed before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. State lawmakers went on hiatus shortly after the session started on March 9 and returned earlier this month with 28 days left to finish their work.

Some Democrats in the legislature complained that they were left out of the decision-making on calling a special session.

"Transparency doesn’t happen in secrecy where the rest of us members do not know a thing about it until it’s a done deal,” said Rep. Malinda White, D-Bogulusa, as she spoke from the House floor.

Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, countered by saying the legislature has a right to call itself into a special session.

"Who can call a special session? The governor can and this body can,” said Bishop.

White suggested the work that will be done in the special session could have been completed in the current session.

"I just want to make sure that the public is aware that we're going to spend maybe 30 days spending approximately $1.8 million to $2 million doing what we have been here going through a lot of these bills already and so after seven special sessions here as a freshman I just want to tell you that we've passed a lot of budgets in a lot less time,” said White.

Bishop said more time is needed to properly structure the budget for the incoming fiscal year.

"You cannot do and get it from here, to the Senate, to the governor and be frugal and fiscally responsible. We didn't ask for COVID-19,” said Bishop.

Collins was asked if the legislature calling itself into a special session weakens the governor’s position.

"No, because I think we have to keep in mind the governor still has veto power,” answered Collins.

Some political observers say a special session gives Republicans a chance to attempt to override vetoes Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, may decide to do related to bills passed during the regular session.

"To override the governor's vetoes, they basically have to, you know, basically keep all of the Republicans onboard,” said Collins.

Collins said overriding a veto is easier said than done. Further, he said Edwards can use his line-item veto power to affect projects some Republican lawmakers care deeply about to get them to back away from supporting an override.

"So I think the governor's strategy is going to be, he's going to try and pick off a few of those Republicans in advance to get them to side with him to try and stop those veto overrides,” said Collins. "With the line-item veto power I think that, that gives the governor a lot of leverage to bring over specific Republican legislators who basically don't want to see projects within their districts taken out by the line-item veto.”

The last time state legislators called themselves into a special session was in 2011 and that was to redraw political district lines.

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