Jindal pushes worker training

Gov. Bobby Jindal

By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal told lawmakers opening their annual legislative session Monday that Louisiana’s biggest challenge was making sure it has enough workers to fill the jobs his administration has helped attract to the state.
Boosting job skills training for high school and college students and better matching them to the petrochemical and manufacturing jobs coming to Louisiana is the Republican governor’s top goal for the 85-day session, which runs until June.
“Our first and most important priority must be to make sure that we have got the best trained, most skilled, most productive workers that you’ll find anywhere in the world,” he told a joint session of the House and Senate.
The centerpiece of the effort involves directing new money to science and technology programs at Louisiana’s public colleges. The governor also wants to require skills training for high school students who don’t plan to go to a four-year university, so they graduate with an industry-based certification in areas like welding or specialized skills for a chemical plant.
Jindal highlighted economic development wins in his speech, saying his administration has drawn new businesses and expansions totaling $50 billion in private investment. He told the stories of eight people who he said were returning home, staying put or moving to Louisiana because of the job recruitment of his administration.
In his 18-minute speech, the governor avoided the highest profile topic facing lawmakers this session, whether to scrap the state’s use of more rigorous educational standards adopted by most states, called the Common Core. The issue divides Republicans, and Jindal has refused to say whether he supports a rollback of the standards or other modifications.
Beyond worker training, Jindal’s agenda is limited, largely involving his support for ideas offered by individual legislators. He’s asking lawmakers to shrink the authority of a state flood protection board that is suing the oil and gas industry, to toughen restrictions on abortion and to take stronger action against human trafficking.
“The overall agenda of the session is going to be driven by individual legislators,” said Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.
The smaller work list for Jindal isn’t surprising.
The governor has fewer than two years remaining in his term and his eye on a possible 2016 presidential campaign. His relationship with lawmakers has grown more difficult in recent years, and a sweeping tax plan Jindal proposed last year fizzled without a vote taken. His legislative day started with a national editorial on the U.S. dispute with Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, and later Jindal was discussing American energy production on CNBC.
While Jindal has proposed a light list, lawmakers have filed more than 1,500 bills with a range of their own ideas on education, finances, health care and crime.
They’ll consider measures to boost the state’s minimum wage, legalize medical marijuana, loosen gun restrictions, cap the state’s free college tuition program and expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program as allowed under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“Anytime you have a vacuum, you’re going to have forces to kind of move in to fill that vacuum. And that seems to be happening. Although I think that’s unfortunate, because we would all be better served if the governor were to actually stay here in Baton Rouge and focus his efforts and his energies on what’s most important,” said Rep. John Bel Edwards, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a candidate for governor in 2015.
Legislators can tackle nearly any topic of interest this session — except taxes. And they must get a budget done before they go home.
Jindal offered his $25 billion budget proposal for the 2014-15 fiscal year. The governor recommends new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
A group of House conservatives is criticizing some of the financial maneuvers Jindal wants to use to steer surplus and other one-time cash to ongoing state government expenses, continuing an annual fight over budget strategy.
With an improved financial picture after six years of cuts, the budget has drawn less attention. That worries Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville, who said she’d like to see significant focus on the spending plans.
“I think you really are at a critical point in the budget. We’re starting to see some recovery, but every move you make in the next 12 months is either going to stabilize it going into the next term or make it more precarious,” she said.
The regular session must end by June 2.

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