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Education savings account bills dead as Louisiana lawmakers decide not to reconvene for veto session

(The Center Square) — Louisiana legislative leaders have officially called off a veto override session for 2022, leaving in place the governor’s rejection of proposals to boost school choice, improve election integrity and protect religious liberty, among others.

A total of 25 senators and 39 representatives returned ballots before the Tuesday deadline to cancel the veto override session this year. The Louisiana Constitution requires a veto override session unless a majority of lawmakers in either chamber opt out.

Fourteen Republicans and 11 Democrats in the upper chamber triggered the threshold, though a majority of the 105 representatives in the House agreed to convene.

Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, officially announced the cancellation of the 2022 veto override session in a letter Tuesday.

“There wasn’t going to be the support necessary to override a single veto, which is why some members of the Senate considered it a colossal waste of money to show up and then gavel out the same day without accomplishing anything,” Cortez told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.

The announcement means 27 vetoes issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards will remain in place, including nearly 20 that passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support.

The decision comes after Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, announced he could not attend the override session because of surgery and Sen. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, vowed not to vote to override any bill.

State Republican leaders, members of the Louisiana Conservative Caucus, school choice advocates and others lobbied lawmakers to return to the capitol to try anyway. Several lawmakers told the media they were disappointed their colleagues opted to stay home.

“There were so many bills that were passed almost unanimously that were so good for the state,” Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monore, told KNOE.

“For us to go back into a veto override session is somewhere between $25,000 and $70,000 for a day or two,” Echols said. “I think that is a small price to pay.”

Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, noted that Republicans were at least two votes short of overriding any of Edwards’ vetoes and said he voted to cancel the session to spare taxpayers the expense.

“At the end of the day, if you are not going to be able to accomplish anything, why go?” he told KNOE. “In my view, it would have been a waste of money. We would have gone to Baton Rouge and not accomplished anything.”

“I absolutely think that some bills needed to be overridden, but the votes weren’t there,” Morris said. “It’s impossible under the constitution if we don’t have 26 votes in the Senate.”

Bills vetoed by Edwards would have created Education Savings Accounts for families of special needs students or those struggling to read that could have been used to pursue educational options outside of the public education system. Another vetoed bill included changes to the state’s corporate charter school law that would have allowed the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve charters, circumventing local school boards.

Others would have required a supplemental canvass of registered voters, prevented emergency rules for churches that are more restrictive than those for businesses and increased penalties for criminals convicted of killing a police officer or first responder.