Tuesday, 07 June 2022 13:13

Waguespack praises Louisiana session for "job creators" wins

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Stephen Waguespack, CEO and President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) cited wins for "Louisiana job creators" as the the 2022 Regular Legislative Session concluded on Monday night: 
Here is the LABI session wrap:

"We were proud to be a part of a coordinated effort between the legislature and the administration to make the most significant infrastructure investment Louisiana has seen in decades,” said LABI President and CEO Stephen Waguespack. “In addition, stabilizing the Unemployment Trust Fund to prevent higher taxes on businesses, defeating legislation to put harmful ITEP policy in the constitution, and prioritizing education and workforce development were key issues this session. LABI advocated for the expansion of education options to ensure every child has access to a quality education. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, and we will continue to fight for student-focused education reform.” 

The Louisiana business community should take note of the following bills passed this session: 

EDUCATION 

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) 

  • HB 194 by Rep. Rhonda Butler (R-Ville Platte) would allow for ESAs for students with special needs and exceptionalities, empowering parents to make the best educational choices for their children by letting them direct their child’s education dollars.  WHY IT MATTERS: “Education is not one-size-fits-all—all children learn differently and require different environments to meet their educational needs,” said Waguespack. “Many parents have children with special needs who aren’t able to function academically in the public school system. This bill would give those families more options to meet their child’s unique learning needs.” 
  • SB 203 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) would create the Reading Education Savings Account (RESA) Program allowing parents to use the state portion of their child's education dollars on education-related tools and services for students who are reading below grade level in second or third grade, in addition to allowing them to receive their education in a private school or home school setting. 

Literacy Bills: 

  • HB 214 by Rep. Richard Nelson (R-Mandeville), would require passage of a reading instruction test as a condition of teacher certification in elementary education. 
  • HB 911 by Rep. Jason Hughes (D-New Orleans) would increase the number of literacy assessments for students in kindergarten through third grade and provides for interventions and improvement plans for students who are lagging behind in literacy. The bill also provides resources to teachers regarding foundational literacy and requires literacy coaches to be on-site for teacher training.  

WHY THESE BILLS MATTER: “Louisiana ranks 48th in education, and fewer than half of Louisiana K-3 students are reading on grade level,” said Lauren Gleason, LABI’s Director of Education. “These bills are a huge step forward in improving literacy rates for students and giving teachers the resources they need to help their students succeed.” 

Other Education Wins 

  • The Louisiana Legislature made a significant education investment, allocating $40 million in the budget for early childhood education in HB 1. 


MAJOR INVESTMENTS IN INFRASTRUCTURE 

Transportation Investments: 

Infrastructure funding has long been one of LABI’s top priorities. In the 2022 Legislative Session, lawmakers made historic efforts toward making these much-needed projects a reality. Here is the funding breakdown: 

  • $300 million for the building of the Mississippi Bridge in Baton Rouge  
  • $200 million for the I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles  
  • $12.5 million for the Commuter Rail  
  • $100 million for I-49 South  
  • Hundreds of millions in funding for local road and bridge repair and construction in parishes across the state. 
  • Megaprojects Leverage Fund   
    • SB 277 by Senate President Page Cortez will steer 75% of the funds from the motor vehicle sales tax to the Construction Subfund of the Transportation Trust Fund. 

WHY IT MATTERS: “This session, the Legislature demonstrated a strong commitment to addressing our state’s infrastructure and transportation needs now and in the years ahead,” said Jim Patterson, LABI’s Vice President of Government Relations. “The legislation passed this session also put in place the procedures necessary for funding of these and other projects going forward.”

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT  

  • HB 231 by Rep. Ken Brass (D-Vacherie) would allow for “reverse transfers” where students who have transferred to a four-year institution in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree - but before completing the requirements for an associate's degree at a two-year institution - to be granted their associate's degree while continuing to work toward a bachelor’s degree. The bill would also permit students to combine credits earned at two- and four-year institutions to be awarded an associate's degree. WHY IT MATTERS: “This legislation rewards working adults with credentials while they work toward a bachelor’s degree— jumpstarting their career while also increasing their value to the workforce,” said Gleason. 
  • HB 470 by Rep. Scott McKnight (R-Baton Rouge), would allow for the collection of certain student information for the purpose of evaluating the alignment between career and technical education programs, workforce training and post-secondary employment. WHY IT MATTERS: According to LABI’s Communications Manager Mary Beth Hughes, “Forty million dollars is spent on CTE each year, but we lack the data needed to know whether the programs are meeting employment needs and whether students are staying in their chosen field long-term.” 
  • SB 151 by Sen. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs) was defeatedThis harmful legislation would have installed the governor's changes to the Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) into the Louisiana constitution. WHY IT MATTERS: “Louisiana is staring down a historic opportunity which our Southern neighbors are beginning to capitalize on,” said Waguespack. “Jobs are fleeing high-tax states like California and New York and heading South, supply chains are disrupted and coming back home from overseas. ITEP is one of the most critical tools we have in the toolbox to attract those investments.” 

Workforce Investments: 

  • $500 million appropriated to replenish the Unemployment Trust Fund, to avoid higher taxes on Louisiana businesses 
  • $10 million appropriation to the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) for broadband workforce training programs. 
  • $10 million appropriation to LCTCS Reboot LA 2.0 Program designed to quickly re-train and certify workers who lost their job during the pandemic to fill high-demand jobs. 
  • $25 million appropriation to LCTCS to grow and expand healthcare workforce training programs. A portion of the funding will be used by LCTCS to expand public-private workforce training partnerships with healthcare providers. A portion will also be used by LCTCS to partner with the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) to expand dual enrollment opportunities for high school students seeking a career in healthcare. 
  • $4.25 million to the HERO Fund (Healthcare Employment Reinvestment Opportunity) to be used by the Board of Regents for initiatives to increase the nursing and allied health workforce. In the past, Regents has used this money to provide grants to two- and four-year campuses to grow their class sizes in nursing and allied health programs. 
  • $10.5 million to the MJ Foster Promise Program Fund. The program provides financial assistance to eligible students who enroll in a qualified program at a two-year public college or university, or accredited proprietary school licensed by Regents. Healthcare workforce training programs will qualify under the program.  
  • TOPS Tech (fully funded within TOPS appropriation): Free tuition awarded to qualified high school graduates for up to two years of skill or occupational training at an accredited Louisiana vocational or technical school for a certificate or diploma.  

JUDICIAL MODERNIZATION & TRANSPARENCY 

  • HB 662 by Rep. Zee Zeringue (R-Houma) would require an annual review of judgeships to be conducted by the Judicial Council to determine if the composition of Louisiana’s district courts and courts of appeal—as well as the number of judges in each district—accurately reflect the population of the state. WHY IT MATTERS: “LABI has worked tirelessly to improve transparency and modernization in our judicial system,” said Lauren Hadden, LABI’s Director of Civil Justice. “This process is critical in creating a judiciary that more accurately reflects the needs of the state, prioritizing population and workload with an eye towards fairness and the efficient delivery of justice.” 

In addition to HB 662, several key priorities and recommendations from LABI’s Judicial Modernization Project were enacted. 

  • Commitment from Louisiana’s Supreme Court to require uniform budget and expenditure documents be developed and made available to the public 
  • Creation of a task force to study the funding and workload of district and circuit courts and determine any necessary changes to the current structure of the courts  
  • Allowance for certain legal proceedings to be held remotely via technology 

LABI’s Legislative Scorecard, a publication detailing how House and Senate members voted on issues important to Louisiana’s business and industry, will be revealed at the end of the summer.  

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