BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards sued the state attorney general Friday for rejecting contracts with an anti-discrimination clause that would protect LGBT people, language the governor ordered to be included in nearly all state contracts.
“I believe he’s on the wrong side of the law and on the wrong side of history on this particular issue,” the Democratic governor said of Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Landry has refused to let state agencies hire outside lawyers if the agreements contain language barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But Edwards issued an executive order in April requiring that language to be included in most state contracts, except if the contractors are religious organizations.
The attorney general said Edwards’ order exceeds the governor’s legal authority and would establish a new protected class of people that doesn’t exist in law.
Landry said he welcomes a court’s decision on the issue: “I can respect that process. I think this is healthy.”
The lawsuit, which Edwards’ office said was filed in state district court Friday, comes after months of escalating tensions since Edwards and Landry both took office in January. The two elected officials have clashed on the budget, oil spill recovery spending, lawsuits inherited from the former governor’s administration and, most recently, contracts.
The governor and attorney general had a closed-door, hour-long meeting in Edwards’ office Friday to discuss some of the disputes. While they appeared to reach terms on two budget disagreements, they didn’t agree on the non-discrimination language for contracts.
“He basically told me if I wanted him to approve those contracts that I would have to sue him. So I’m going to oblige him on that,” Edwards said after the meeting. He added: “To tell people they can only contract with the state if they’re free to discriminate, then that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
More than 40 contracts to hire outside attorneys are stalled because of the argument, including arrangements for legal work at the Office of Elderly Affairs, the corrections department, natural resources department, state coastal protection agency, military affairs department and Southeastern Louisiana University. More than a dozen contracts for legal work on medical malpractice cases were rejected.
“It’s becoming a real problem,” Edwards said.
And it extends to the offices of other Republican statewide elected officials, include the agencies led by the secretary of state, insurance commissioner, agriculture commissioner and treasurer.
The governor, an attorney, said Landry’s office is supposed to do a “ministerial” review of contracts for agencies and boards to hire outside lawyers, making sure the lawyers are qualified to do the work and the fee structure complies with state law. Anything beyond that, Edwards said, exceeds the attorney general’s authority.
“That’s going to be what the courts are going to decide,” Landry said.
Landry said he’s complying with the wishes of the Louisiana Legislature, which has refused to add protections into Louisiana law against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“That legislation was rejected in a bipartisan fashion,” he said. “Both the governor and I are supposed to abide by the wishes of the Legislature.”
Edwards’ anti-discrimination order is similar to orders enacted by two former Louisiana Democratic governors — but he added language protecting against discrimination based on gender identity, a provision that protects transgender people.
“I’m very comfortable having issued the executive order,” Edwards said.
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