Jindal pushes worker training as legislative session opens - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Jindal pushes worker training as legislative session opens

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The 2014 Louisiana legislative session kicked off Monday at noon, and soon after, Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered a brief address to a joint session of state senators and House members. Jindal named workforce development, tort reform and a crackdown on human trafficking as top priorities.

But lawmakers from both political parties said they wanted to hear more specifics from the governor during his address, which lasted less than 30 minutes.

Jindal said Louisiana high school and college students must be better prepared to meet the job demand in the state. Jindal proposes putting $40 million into a fund to help colleges and universities

"Students even in high school, before they get to higher education, have a chance to get the technical training they will need to fill those tens of thousands of new jobs coming to our state," Jindal told lawmakers.

Jindal also said it is time to end "frivolous lawsuits," and he is pushing for a crackdown on human trafficking in Louisiana. He said many people falsely assume human trafficking is limited to overseas.

"Too many victims are suffering today in silence," said Jindal.

Jindal has proposed a $25 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Lawmakers from both parties said they were listening for more details on the budget.

"Yes, his budgets for several years are based on fuzzy math and that's something that we're going to have to work on. A lot of us have already started working on it, and we're going to continue to work on to point out the discrepancies and see if he will work with us to fix it," said Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie.

"We need to make sure that we increase funding in K through 12, so that all the people have access to higher education. We haven't done that in six years. We're going to work hard to do that this year," said House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

Still, the issue that's expected to dominate much of the session is Common Core, the educational standards in place in states across the country. Some lawmakers want to block further implementation of the standards, while others believe the program just needs some tweaking.

"We need to get parents comfortable, whether we get it out of Louisiana completely, or we give locals the options. We have a lot of work to do, and I think we're going to get something that everybody's happy with," said Rep. Henry.

Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans, believes Common Core will make students more competitive with their peers around the country, but he agrees there are some parts of the curricula that need another look.

"I am concerned about some of the details that have been raised, so if we can make it better, I'd like to see it better. I think we have to make sure we prepare our kids just not for Louisiana or Greater New Orleans, but to compete with the rest of the world," said Rep. Bishop.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, wanted to hear the governor weigh in on the Common Core debate.

"Many of us want to move this state forward, want to be competitive and support Common Core, and there are a lot of people who don't. And I think the governor has to take a position on that at some point. I was very surprised that he didn't take a position during his speech," Morrell said.

Before the gavel sounded at noon, marking the official start of the session, people who want marijuana legalized in the state and want to expand the use of the drug for medicinal purposes rallied on the steps of the state capitol.

"At the very least, a decriminalization bill as well as a functional medicinal marijuana bill hopefully this session, and by functional medicinal marijuana, I mean that the legislature would not say what ailments could be treated, but that could be done through a patient-doctor relationship," said Kevin Caldwell with Legalize Louisiana.

But lawmakers don't expect the marijuana debate to be one of the bigger issues this session.

"I'm all for helping people who have medical problems, but I don't think we need to weaken our laws as it relates to substance abuse," said Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner.

Democrats in the House and Senate said they would also push for a higher minimum wage and expansion of Louisiana's Medicaid eligibility as part of the federal health care reform law, but given that Republicans control both houses of the legislature, those issues are not expected to meet with much success. Jindal remains steadfastly opposed to taking federal dollars to expand the number of people who would qualify for Medicaid in the state. The Jindal administration has said even though the feds are footing the cost of having more individuals on Medicaid in the early years of health care reform, the state would have to the shoulder millions in new expenses down the road.

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