With his immigrant parents looking on, Gov. Bobby Jindal opened the 2014 legislative session Monday by vowing to guarantee the American dream for every child growing up in Louisiana.
Jindal asked legislators to help him steer dollars toward aligning the state’s college curricula with workforce needs. The initiative is the centerpiece of the governor’s legislative package.
“My parents came from halfway across the world to find opportunity in this great state. … The reason I ran for office in the first place is I want their grandchildren, I want my children, to be able to pursue their dreams right here in this great state. My parents came from halfway across the world. I don’t want their grandchildren to have to leave this state to pursue their dreams,” the governor said.
Jindal’s speech kicked off the 85-day session. Legislators, lobbyists and others crowded into the Louisiana House chamber for his address. Representatives sat at their desks. Senators settled into folding chairs.
The governor’s parents — who immigrated to Louisiana from India several months ahead of Jindal’s birth — and his in-laws and wife, Supriya, got front-row seats for the 19-minute speech.
Opening day gives legislators a chance to visit before getting into the meat of the session. Some bring their families.
State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and his wife dressed their four girls in matching outfits. Some listen to the governor’s speech and scurry to news conferences.
This year, a Common Core rally on the State Capitol steps drew legislators as soon as the governor whisked back upstairs in his private elevator.
Always, a session means food, whether it’s pies from advocates for the disabled to symbolize the state’s fiscal pie or snacks at a legislative reception. Legislators made a beeline for the pie table set up in Memorial Hall, where they accepted a pie box adorned with a plea to keep funding intact for the disabled.
Later in the day, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden welcomed legislators back to the State Capitol with live entertainment and regional cuisine.
This year, many legislators expressed disappointment with the lack of details in the governor’s speech. Jindal highlighted what he called his achievements over the past six years, told stories about several Louisiana jobholders in the audience and talked about his parents’ immigration to the U.S. Specifics about his legislative package were scant.
The governor said he wants to put more people to work, throw the book at sex traffickers and answer the business community’s complaints about lawsuits.
He made no mention of where he stands on Common Core, the controversial set of education standards that some legislators want to repeal.
Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, characterized the speech as typical of a governor facing the sunset on his two terms in office.
“He didn’t touch on Common Core at all, which is the issue of the session,” Morrell said.
Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, said he, too, had hoped for a little more guidance. “I wish he’d dealt with more specific issues,” he said.
Rep. Jared Brossett, D-New Orleans, said the governor could provide opportunities by helping people out of poverty and opportunities to get healthy through the Medicaid expansion. “It’s disastrous what the governor has done to higher education. He talks about $140 million for higher education this year, but what about the close to a billion you’ve cut. Then he’s taxed our students and their families with tuition increases. I’m looking forward to discussing this in the Appropriations Committee. That’s why I’m bringing a minimum wage bill,” he said.
Broadwater said the governor highlighted the importance of training and preparing Louisiana’s workforce. “It’s not necessarily a controversial agenda. It’s something we can all agree on, and that will be nice,” he said.
Over the next few months of the legislative session, Jindal plans to focus on higher education, tort reform, military veterans and human trafficking.
The governor’s initiatives include:
- Increasing funding for higher education by $141 million, including $40 million to align colleges’ student preparation with workforce demands. Of the increase, $88 million comes from tuition hikes.
- Tilting the legal environment toward a more business friendly environment.
- Instilling lease protections for military spouses, creating a voluntary registry for veterans exposed to burn pits and building court programs for veterans battling drug or substance abuse addictions.
- Continuing to crack down on human trafficking.
With less than two years remaining in his term, Jindal’s legislative package is relatively light. Last year, he attempted to repeal the state’s income taxes only to withdraw the proposal on the first day of the legislative session. He cannot seek re-election next year because of term limits.
Some would say Jindal’s focus has shifted. He will be in New Hampshire on Friday along with a parade of White House hopefuls.
Common Core — the controversial set of educational standards — is expected to dominate the next three months at the State Capitol. Legislators must decide whether to tweak it or scuttle it entirely.
Other issues include authorizing medical marijuana, increasing property taxes in Orleans Parish, creating a legal framework for surrogacy birth contracts and raising the minimum wages.
Slidell mother Rebecca Patterson attended the Common Core rally with her 15-year-old son, Daniel. Patterson, who home-schools her son, is concerned about being required to teach him the Common Core curriculum, which sets out tougher standards in math, reading and writing.
“We’re looking to the future saying, ‘This is horrible,’ ” Patterson said.