Legislators: Training equals jobs

BY PRESTON GILL pgill@daily-review.com

The 2014 session of the Legislature opened Monday in Baton Rouge with Gov. Bobby Jindal saying he was committed to something St. Mary Parish needs — workforce development.
House members Sam Jones, D-Franklin, and Joe Harrison, R-Gray, along with Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, said the commitment to develop skilled labor could mean employment for thousands of people; benefiting employers, workers and colleges.
Allain said, “Anytime the governor will showcase workforce development and make it a top priority, it is a good thing. … In the whole tri-parish region there could be 5,000 to 6,000 people hired tomorrow if we could have them trained.”
Jones said he has advocated for a commitment to workforce development and higher education for years and is glad the governor expressed a willingness to invest in the state and its workers.
“I am in synch with what the governor said about training workers,” Jones said. “I have been asking for this for six years and I’m glad the governor has finally gotten around to it. There could be 500 to 1,000 welders hired in Morgan City tomorrow if they had the training.”
Harrison said this has been a commitment the state needs.
“We are happy the governor said he will have money to help us catch up to what our needs are on this issue,” Harrison said. “We have a real need for trained welders and fitters and we are in a position to do that with our community colleges if we get the money.”
The governor’s stated intention to invest in workforce development included a reversal of a several-years long trend at cutting higher education. He promised a $142 million increase in funding for higher education which includes a $40 million allocation through a pool of money called the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund.
John Bell Edwards, chairman of the Louisiana House Democratic Caucus, welcomes the fund as a development that will help the state recover from years of neglecting higher education and community colleges.
“This is an opportunity to train employees for St. Mary Parish and the rest of the state who can work at good jobs with real benefits,” Edwards said. “We would be further along in this goal if we had not been cutting education all these years.”
Jones said a commitment must go beyond words.
“If the governor is interested in developing programs that will help the state and this region, perhaps he can do something to speed up the construction of the diving school at Young Memorial,” Jones said, referring to the program of South Central Louisiana Technical College. “We need to be all in on this commitment. The financial support needs to match the rhetoric.”
Earl Meador, director of the college, said he is looking “forward to seeing the details emerge as the proposal works its way through the political process. On the surface the WISE plan will be a big benefit to South Central Louisiana Technical College. We are a college focused on workforce training.”
Both House members expressed concerns regarding what the governor said he will do compared to how he will do it.
“The devil is in the details,” Harrison said. “We were not given many details. And about $88 million of the $142 million increase in Louisiana’s higher education budget will be paid for by students in tuition increases. That is not a real commitment from the state.”
The WISE funding will be allocated on a competitive basis although the rules have not yet been spelled out, Edwards said. But colleges and universities accessing the fund must use the funds to develop skills the state needs. The institutions will also have to find an outside source of funding, covering 20 percent of a program’s costs, through private investment or federal funding to use the WISE funds.
Jindal said his agenda this year included fighting the sex traffic trade as well as tort reform.
Allain said legislation to curtail frivolous lawsuits is good for business in the state. Jones agreed “some limitations” needs to be put on class action suits, especially regarding legacy suits claiming damages that occurred decades ago.
Harrison said making human sex trafficking an agenda item was “overkill” and he was disappointed that other pressing issues were not addressed.
“We need to enforce the laws we already have regarding sex trafficking,” Harrison said. “What about other issues? Common Core was not even mentioned. It is like the governor is avoiding it like the plague. We need to be talking about infrastructure; our roads, bridges and ports. Things we need to attract businesses and grow commerce.”
Harrison said he saw no leadership from the governor in his delivery Monday.
“I wasn’t motivated by what the governor said. I think it is time for the Legislature to lead and to take action,” Harrison said.
Jones said there are issues Jindal did not discuss that need to be worked out in the state and he agreed with Harrison that it might be time for the Legislature to lead on some of these issues.
“The Legislature will have to address problems such as formulating an honest balanced budget like we did last year in cooperation with the fiscal hawks,” Jones said.

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