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La. legislature overrides veto of HB 648, bans gender-affirming procedures on children

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BATON ROUGE - One of the most hotly debated bills of the 2023 Louisiana legislative session is set to become law, with the House and Senate on Tuesday voting to override a gubernatorial veto of HB 648, a measure that bans gender-affirming treatments and procedures for minors.

Members of the House voted 75-to-23 in favor of an override. In the Senate, the vote was 28-to-11. 

That was a big enough margin to successfully quash the veto.

The bill, authored by Rep. Gabe Firment (R, Pollock), prohibits doctors from performing medical procedures or prescribing medication that alters the appearance of individuals under age 18 for the purpose of gender dysphoria treatment.

Governor Edwards issued the following statement Tuesday afternoon: 

“In eight years as a Democratic governor with a Republican legislature, I have issued 319 vetoes. More than 99% of those vetoes have been sustained. Usually, we have been able to find common ground to move Louisiana forward, and I am thankful to the legislature for all the good we have accomplished together. But we have also had profound disagreements.

Just two of my vetoes have been overridden. The first time I was overridden, on the Congressional district map, I said the bill was illegal and I expected the courts would throw it out. The courts have done so. Today, I was overridden for the second time on my veto of a bill that needlessly harms a very small population of vulnerable children, their families, and their health care professionals. I expect the courts to throw out this unconstitutional bill, as well.”

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as psychological distress when one’s gender identity is different from one’s sex assigned at birth.

“This bill simply protects kids from harm by ending the use of unproven, experimental and irreversible chemical and surgical procedures on children in Louisiana suffering from a condition called gender dysphoria,” Firment said.

When Gov. John Bel Edwards issued his veto in June, he offered a lengthy explanation of his objections.

Edwards wrote, in his 6-page veto letter: This bill denies healthcare to a very small, unique, and vulnerable group of children. It forces children currently stabilized on medication to treat a legitimate healthcare diagnosis to stop taking it. It threatens the professional licensure of the limited number of specialists who treat the healthcare needs of these children. It takes away parental rights to work with a physician to make important healthcare decisions for children experiencing a gender crisis that could quite literally save their lives. And, without a doubt, it is part of a targeted assault on children that the bill itself deems not "normal.".

As was the case during the regular session, speakers offered impassioned arguments for and against the bill during the first day of the veto override session.

HB 648 had initially failed to advance through a Senate committee, but the measure saw new life and eventually cleared the committee and advanced out of the Capitol.

The ACLU of Louisiana on Tuesday condemned the measure -- which it had fought since the start of the 2023 session.

“Lawmakers who voted to overturn Governor Edwards’ veto of House Bill 648 have chosen to sacrifice the health and safety of Louisiana’s transgender children and undermine the rights of their parents," the organization said. "This is extreme government overreach and a direct threat to the civil liberties and constitutional rights of all Louisianans. We condemn today’s override of HB648, and we will never stop fighting to protect the rights of transgender youth and their families.”

Critics pointed to successful legal challenges to similar laws in other states, predicting that the new Louisiana law will meet a the same fate.

Supporters celebrated its passage, even as they faced a likely veto from the governor.

"If HB 648 doesn’t become law, we will be sending a horrible message to our children," Sen. Jeremy Stine said in final arguments on the floor. "This isn’t complicated. Our kids deserve to know that they are loved, valued, and perfect just as God created them."

A two-thirds vote in the House and Senate was required to override the veto.

Two other bills that were protested by much of the LGBTQ+ community failed to meet the standards for a veto override.

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