- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 25, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - An LGBT rights anti-discrimination order issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards has “no binding legal effect,” according to opinion released Wednesday by Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office.

The opinion is expected to exacerbate tensions between two of Louisiana’s top elected leaders.

The Democratic governor issued the order in April, banning discrimination in state government based on sexual orientation and gender identity. State contracts also were required to comply, except contractors that are religious organizations.

The opinion, issued in response to a request from 32 Republican lawmakers in the state House, was posted to the GOP attorney general’s website. It says an executive order cannot create or expand state law or establish a new protected class of people that doesn’t exist in law. And it says protections for people based on their gender identity aren’t established in law.

“To the extent the order purports to establish a new, legally protected class, it may not do so and should be interpreted as merely aspirational and without any binding legal effect,” says the opinion, written by Assistant Attorney General Angelique Duhon Freel.



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.

The attorney general’s opinion says the governor “exceeded statutory authority by attempting to create new legislation in violation of the separation of powers.” And it says the contracting provision isn’t enforceable because it would curtail “constitutional freedoms.”

Edwards and Landry have clashed over financial and legal issues since both took office in January. An attorney general’s opinion does not carry the force of law, but could be used to lay groundwork for a lawsuit.

Edwards issued a statement saying Landry “has overstepped the authority given to his office” and was trying to erode the governor’s power in the constitution.

“My executive order, as has been the case with previous executive orders, is a fully constitutional, good faith effort by the state to eliminate employment discrimination of any kind,” Edwards said. “More importantly, this executive order, for the first time, was written in a way that respects the religious beliefs of every single person in Louisiana.”

The governor also defended the intent of the order and vowed to follow it.

“Discrimination, of any kind, is not a Louisiana value, and I will do everything in my power, including enforcing this order, to foster a productive and welcoming work environment in Louisiana’s state government,” he said.

In its nine-page opinion, Landry’s office declined to issue a direct review of the legality of an Obama administration directive telling public schools they must permit transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their chosen gender identity.

Landry joined his counterparts in 10 other states Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration directive. Landry’s office described the directive as causing “immediate, direct and substantial harm” to Louisiana and other states, because of the threat of lost federal education funding.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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