When two of the most conservative Republicans in the Louisiana Legislature disagree on legislation, that’s news. And that’s exactly what happened in a hearing before the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee.
The hearing focused on a constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Mark Wright of Covington. Wright wants to remove the veto power over the governor’s article. If approved by two-thirds of both houses of the Legislative Assembly, voters in the state would have the final say with a majority vote on October 14, 2023.
The House is due to debate and vote on Wright’s bill on Monday. If approved, it passes to the Senate.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) said each state constitution empowers the governor to veto a full bill passed by the legislature. And 44 states give their governors the right to veto appropriation bills, meaning he or she can veto parts of an appropriation bill.
“So the power to control spending is shared,” the NCSL said. “As a result, budgeting is an area where friction between the legislative and executive branches often occurs.”
Why does friction occur? This is because governors sometimes use this veto to punish lawmakers who may have opposed them on various issues.
Opponents of Wright’s bill believed it was aimed at Governor John Bel Edwards. However, Wright said he had anticipated the public vote in 2023 when Edwards will not be able to seek a third term. He said gubernatorial candidates could debate the issue during their campaigns
The Wright bill walked out of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on April 4 with a 6-5 vote. Republicans cast all six votes, and the five votes were cast by four Democrats and one Republican.
The bill was sent to the Civil Law Committee because that is where all proposed amendments must be approved. It was also approved and sent to the whole House.
Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh of Shreveport, perhaps the most conservative GOP member in the House, told the committee he disagreed with Wright’s plan. He said that item vetoes have been used on occasion to keep the state budget balanced, and that the late President Ronald Reagan liked the item veto as a way to control federal spending.
Presidents do not have the power to use vetoes on points. Reagan supported it because he was repeatedly thwarted by Congress when he attempted to eliminate certain established programs from the federal budget.
Congress gave that authority to former Democratic President Bill Clinton with the Line Item Veto Act of 1996. The goal was to control “hog barrel spending.”
The authority only lasted two years. The United States Supreme Court, in a 1998 decision, declared the law unconstitutional. With a 6-3 decision, the court said vetoing the article violated a constitutional requirement that legislation must be passed by both houses of Congress and presented in its entirety to the president for signature or veto.
Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge, cast the GOP’s only vote against the Wright bill when he was heard on April 4. He said the article’s veto provides checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.
Ivey said presidents can only reject an entire federal budget and asked how that works in their efforts to control federal spending. It doesn’t work, of course.
Governors sometimes use the clause veto to get revenge on lawmakers who get them in trouble. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, for example, last year used a one-line veto to wipe out the entire legislative budget.
Abbott used the veto in retaliation after House Democrats broke quorum on the last day of the legislative session to block passage of Texas election bills that opponents say would limit voting nationwide State. The governor added the restoration of funds to the agenda of a special session.
Louisiana’s Republican and Democratic governors have repeatedly used point vetoes to suppress projects funded by their critics and opponents. Wright said it happened more often from 2000 to 2022 during former Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s two terms.
The individual veto works well in 44 states and gives the governor and lawmakers a good balance when it comes to spending state revenues. It shouldn’t go that far, but if Wright’s amendment makes it to the ballot next year, voters should reject it and pretty much leave it alone.