Capitol Views: Jindal presents light package to open session
Presenting the lightest administration agenda of his six years in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal today steered clear of the hot-button issues to be debated and asked lawmakers to improve workforce training, crack down on human trafficking and work toward a "fair and predictable legal environment." With little to stir them either way, senators and representatives applauded his policy package only once during his 18-minute address, on the topic of human trafficking. "This is a crime, unfortunately, that's happening in Louisiana," the governor said to applause. Those bills and much of the rest of his package have yet to be filed for the session that runs through June 2. Taking a leaf from presidential State of the Union addresses of the past, Jindal introduced eight individuals on the side of the House chamber who, he said, had benefited from laws passed during his term that had enabled them to stay in, return to or move to Louisiana for employment and business opportunities. Building off of the theme, Jindal likewise promised to put $141 million into higher education, of which $40 million would be for workforce training. Likely to be the most controversial item in his package will be litigation changes backed by the business community in its call for tort reform. One bill introduced by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would lower the threshold for jury trials from $50,000—the highest in the nation—to $15,000. Left unmentioned by the governor were bills to thwart the massive lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for coastal damages filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East. Jindal also failed to mention legislation to restrict political subdivisions from hiring outside lawyers with contingency fee contracts. The author of a package of those bills, Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, has said that the governor's staff is "adamant" about their passage.
—Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the governor's light agenda could allow lawmakers to make headway with their own issues. "Any time you have a vacuum you are going to have forces that move in to fill that vacuum," he said. So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor's office. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a press conference following the governor's speech that the administration's budget proposal was a "farce" and that there shouldn't be millions of dollars in need for workforce development. But several years of cuts have led the state to this point, she added. "The problem is the investments have not been made by this administration in K through 12, nor have they been made in higher education," Peterson said.
John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session on June 2. The report is also available to LaPolitics Weekly subscribers at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.
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