Bid for veto session fails

The Legislature won’t return to Baton Rouge and attempt to reverse Gov. Bobby Jindal’s vetoes of bills and budget cuts, according to vote tallies released Friday by leaders of the Louisiana House and state Senate.

During modern times, legislators never have been able to get enough votes to convene a veto override session. But lawmakers got closer this year than usual, largely because of intense lobbying by advocates for the disabled community.

They had hoped legislators would reconvene to overturn Jindal’s line-item vetoes in the state’s $25.4 billion budget, which removed $6 million that would have funded services for the disabled. Jindal rejected seven bills and removed 31 items from the budget.

The House agreed to a veto override session. The Senate was six votes shy. All it took was a majority vote of one legislative chamber to cancel the session.

Senate President John Alario Jr., R-Westwego, acknowledged in a prepared statement that many senators were disappointed. But he said a veto session would not be in the state’s best interest because of the costs and the uncertainty of lawmakers mustering the two-thirds vote needed in both chambers to override the governor’s action.

“It’s important that we work during this interim to find permanent solutions for these citizens who greatly need our help,” House Speaker Chuck Kleckley said in a prepared statement. He declined interview requests.

State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and a supporter of the funding that would have allowed more access to state services for more disabled people, said the budget needed to be cut to be balanced.

“If we wanted to decide the cuts, then we should make the cuts,” White said in explaining why he opposed the veto override session. He said it wasn’t fair to ask the governor to make the decision then attempt to negate the decision he made.

The Jindal administration and legislative leaders committed Friday to work on getting more help to those disabled people waiting for state-supported home services.

Under the law, 20 of the 39 state senators needed to back a veto override session, which they would do by not sending a ballot saying the meeting is unnecessary. Twenty-six senators returned their ballots and that cancelled the session, which would have started Tuesday.

The Louisiana House, which requires 53 of the 105 members to decide, opted for a veto override session. Sixty-seven representatives did not return their ballots.

Had the special session been called, state law requires a two-thirds majority — 26 in the Senate, 70 in the House — to override a governor’s veto.

Legislators would have been able to consider reversing Jindal’s rejection of bills that had passed the Legislature, including those dealing with surrogate mothers, the Juban Crossing retail and residential development in Livingston Parish and a New Orleans riverfront improvement plan including upgrades to bring more conventions and tourism.

But the most vocal criticism came from Jindal’s removal of $4 million to provide more home- and community-based services for people at risk of going into institutions. The money had been directed to the New Opportunities Waiver program, which has 10,711 people on a waiting list for services.

The program offers people age 3 and older services such as attendants to relieve family caregivers, home modifications and specialized equipment.

“This is not the end and we are not done,” said Bambi Polotzola, of Opelousas, an organizer of the “Override the Veto” campaign. “We will need to have continuing dialog with our legislators to look at ways to get funding back through this year and in the future to get that funding to our families who are so desperately in need.”

State health chief Kathy Kliebert said her agency will hold forums with advocates to discuss priorities for funding and potential realignment of dollars going forward. A meeting had been set for Friday but it has been postponed until next week, likely July 19, she said.

Kliebert said efforts have been ongoing to reassess the services individuals are getting today, so they are getting what they need, though not necessarily everything they want, thereby freeing up dollars to serve more people.

Kliebert said the agency cannot today prioritize people on the waiting list based on need. “It’s on a first-come, first-served basis” with the person at the top of the list offered the slot when one becomes open, she said.

“We need to be able to get to the people who really need those services,” Kliebert said.

Disabled advocate Kay Marcel said the reaction now from legislators is puzzling.

“Some legislators said they are going to restore the money in the coming weeks, months, whatever,” Marcel said. “That will be wonderful if they do that. It still leaves us wondering why the funds were vetoed in the first place.”