The Opening Round

Stephen Waguespack

View from Business

Ding, ding, ding …
The bell has rung and the fight is about to begin. We are two weeks into the 2014 Louisiana Legislative session and so far the session has resembled a classic boxing match.
For the most part, shadow boxing has dominated the first few rounds. Sure, we have seen a few skirmishes here and there, but no haymakers have landed and no blood has been drawn. The fighters have largely just danced around the ring, maybe thrown a jab or two, but they haven’t made any real contact. It seems they are simply feeling one another out during these few opening rounds.
However, don’t be surprised if House Clerk Butch Speer channels his inner-Michael Buffer on Monday morning, when the House of Representatives comes back, and proclaims into the microphone, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”
Last year, the shadow boxing continued until the budget started to move through the House of Representatives midway through session. This year, we can feel the increase in intensity a bit earlier due to a few important policy battles coming to a head this week.
During this third week of session, important issues such as lawsuit reform and Common Core will get their first real taste of action in committee.
On lawsuit reform, it is important that citizens understand why this issue is so critical to our state’s success. A recent nationwide poll of corporate executives shows that 70 percent of them report that a state’s litigation environment affects where they locate and conduct business. Meanwhile, 60 percent of our LABI members report that frivolous lawsuits increase their cost of doing business in this state.
They could otherwise reinvest those dollars in their businesses or the local economy. Another study shows that this “tort tax” is nationally estimated at $9,287 annually for a family of four, or an 8 percent tax on consumption, or a 13 percent tax on wages. These tort taxes built into our system are a silent job killer that no one sees coming but is felt by everyone each and every day.
We will bring bills this week to help target these costs. The bills will eliminate some of the judge shopping we see in our state, give our citizens back the right to request a jury when they get sued, and put transparency and accountability on public entities when they try to quietly cut a contract with a hand-selected firm using future public recovery dollars.
In addition, we proudly stood with a strong coalition to announce compromise legislation this week to finally address the legacy lawsuit problem that has plagued our state for years, driving away investment and stifling cleanup in the process. These are all sensible steps and the battle to get them passed begins this week.
When it comes to Common Core, I think we all understand the issue but I am not sure if we all recognize the stakes. Interested stakeholders have raised concerns on issues such as privacy and federal intrusion and there is widespread support to find solutions to those problems. Everyone agrees.
I think everyone should also agree that our national ranking of 48th in reading and 50th in math is not acceptable for our state. For too long we have looked the other way on these numbers and allowed generations of students to quietly tread water through an underperforming system. While we rightly admired the hard work and effort of our educators over the years, we unjustifiably accepted as our fate these poor outcomes. We can do better and the reality is, we have no choice.
The global economy in which we now compete demands we up our game. The days of depending on low-level manufacturing jobs to scoop up young adults with low-level skills are long gone. The manufacturing jobs of today are high tech and require our graduates to be proficient in reading, math and critical thinking. We cannot turn our backs on this reality.
The Common Core standards we have in place today are strong and help get us there. If we retreat from those standards and go back to the old game plan of looking the other way, we lose as a state.
So, as you watch the players throw punches this week in the Legislature and you see them get bloodied up a bit, remember why you are watching the fight in the first place. It is not for entertainment and it is not just for sport. These battles are vitally important for the future of our state.
If our state’s future is important to you, you may want to get out of your seat and hop into the ring with us. But, don’t wait too long to decide, because the bell is about to ring.
Prior to joining LABI, Stephen served as Special Counsel for Jones Walker, a Louisiana law firm, where he directed their multistate government relations practice. He formerly served as a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Waguespack also served as chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, executive counsel, and policy director for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Prior to his work with Jindal, he worked for The Alpine Group in Washington, D.C., and as an energy policy advisor to Texas Congressman Joe Barton. Waguespack holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University and a law degree from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Louisiana State Bar. Waguespack and his wife Colleen have three sons and live in Baton Rouge.

By STEPHEN WAGUESPACK

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