Jindal: Aligning school systems to meet workforce needs is main priority for session
Gov. Bobby Jindal says aligning Louisiana's educational systems to state workforce needs will be his main priority for the legislative session that begins Monday and runs through June 2. In a pre-session interview with The Associated Press, Jindal outlines items he's pushing with lawmakers during the three-month session, including tougher laws against human trafficking in Louisiana and changes to the civil litigation system sought by business groups. He's seeking new restraints on a southeast Louisiana flood protection board that filed a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry, a lawsuit Jindal opposed. And he's promising a vigorous defense of his 2012 education laws, which are targeted for rollback by several lawmakers. The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative—a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law—collapse without getting a vote in 2013. At the top of his list this session, Jindal says, is to build on efforts to recruit and retain businesses. He says his administration has attracted billions of dollars in new investment, much of it in the petrochemical industry, but he says Louisiana needs to better prepare workers for the construction and skilled trades jobs coming with those projects. "We need to link the needs of employers with our educational institutions," Jindal says. "I think our big challenge this session is getting ready for this manufacturing expansion." He's asking legislators to steer $40 million to a new incentive fund—called the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy plan—encouraging colleges to do more commercial research and produce graduates in high-demand fields. Read the full story.
Today's poll question: Gov. Bobby Jindal told a conservative group on Thursday that he thinks Barack Obama is the worst U.S. president of his lifetime. What do you think of his assessment of Obama?
LaPolitics: Various agendas will round out session
When the regular session of the Legislature convenes Monday, the business community and the trial bar will resurrect their traditional dispute over litigation of personal injury claims. In doing so, LABI could have some momentum in its quest to lower the highest-in-the-nation threshold for jury trials. And two years after Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration rolled over the teacher unions in passing the governor's education agenda, it will be gingerly playing defense on how much to scale back teacher tenure and evaluation initiatives after a series of legal setbacks. The more sensitive issue for the administration will be the dual opposition by conservatives and teacher groups to the Common Core national standards. Meanwhile, national groups will play a greater role in this session when the liberal activists of MoveOn clash with the conservative Americans for Prosperity over a renewed effort to get the state to accept the expansion of Medicaid. One would think that Louisiana could not be any more expansive on the rights of gun owners, but a number of bills seem to be competing to do just that. Finally, it'll be unusual to see so many social and cultural issues on tap for the 2014 regular session. The movement could very well produce the strongest LGBT agenda the state has ever seen. Bills have already been filed or will soon be introduced to usher in new anti-discrimination laws for gays and lesbians; reverse the state's bans against sodomy; add new protections for bullying in schools; and erase perceived biases in housing. Coupled with bills expected to address marijuana reform, more of the session's subject matter than usual will lean decidedly left, even if most of the Legislature still tends to sway the other way. LaPolitics has more on another of the session's other expected barnburners, which involves Big Oil, the coast and a lawsuit.
—There are a number of proposals filed for the regular session to increase state supplemental pay for firefighters and police officers. It's a boost lawmakers haven't implemented since the early 2000s, so the reaction from these communities could send hundreds in full uniform to lobby the Legislature, which would in turn put lawmakers in a tight spot. Saying no to a bureaucrat is one thing. Denying your neighborhood police officer is another. "The Legislature is going to have to be careful about getting on a spending binge," says Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro. "The normal stream of revenue is not supporting what we have in the budget right now." As for whether the issue could balloon, sending hordes of uniforms to the Capitol to pressure lawmakers, like in previous years, Fannin says it's a possibility. Especially with a proposed constitutional amendment to add municipal EMS workers to the list of those who can receive state supplemental pay. "It might be like that. But there's always people coming up the steps," he says. LaPolitics has a breakdown of all the various supplemental pay bills that have been introduced.
Political takeaways: In a feature about former Gov. Edwin Edwards, The Economist, a London-based newspaper, declares, "They use his blood to make Viagra." There's nothing really new about Edwards in the feature, but it offers a decent view on what the Cajun prince is up to these days. LaPolitics has more from this week's political headlines.
They said it: "I know how to get to those places. I'm not going to be pulling out a map." —Garret Graves, candidate in the 6th Congressional District, on campaigning down the bayou in the district's southern end in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.
(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford publish LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow them on Twitter, or on Facebook.).
Executive editor: Success of industrial boom hinges on people as much as natural resources
Nothing is more sobering for the overly exuberant than hearing the straight skinny from people who know what they're talking about, says Business Report Executive Editor David Dodson. "Case in point: I attended a recent symposium on the impending construction boom in which a panel of experts from various fields recounted their experience with past surges in industrial activity," Dodson writes in his latest column. "Talk about a buzzkill." It's not that the panelists were being negative, Dodson says—far from it. "But they were injecting a note of reality that has thus far been missing in the chorus of hurrahs that attends each new plant construction announcement," he says. "If there were a theme to the symposium, it was that while the whole Louisiana Industrial Renaissance thing is predicated on long-term supplies of relatively inexpensive natural gas—something over which we in Louisiana exercise almost no control—the success of the overall enterprise boils down to people." Dodson says he has no lack of confidence in industrialists such as Roland Toups, chairman and CEO of locally based Turner Industries; or folks like Stan Knez, president of Technip Stone & Webster Process Technology, and Charles Freeburgh, vice president for advocacy at Axiall Corp.—all of whom were symposium panelists. "The people the panelists gave me cause to worry about are the tens of thousands of construction workers who will have to come from somewhere to fill the estimated 80,000 full-time equivalent positions the boom may generate," Dodson says. "If that workforce were a city, it would be Louisiana's fifth largest, smaller than Lafayette and larger than Lake Charles." Read the complete column. Send your comments to email@example.com.
'225 Dine': Restaurants sign on to initiative aimed at healthier kids' menus
An effort within Mayor Kip Holden's Healthy BR initiative is gaining steam to address childhood obesity as more and more families dine out. As 225 Dine reports, the Eat Healthy BR program is seeking partnerships with city restaurants in an effort to bring healthier options to Baton Rouge residents who dine out with their children. So far, 13 restaurants—including MJ's Cafť, Nino's, The Little Village, Mestizo and others—are working with Eat Healthy BR to provide milk and water as drink options and a fruit and vegetable side option for all kids' meals. Nutritionist and Baton Rouge Dietetic Association representative Melissa Martin says having access to fruits, vegetables and healthier options is key to a positive, citywide change. "So many families don't cook at home anymore," she says. "By not having access to fruits or vegetables, that child may not get a balanced diet. We want to give children that opportunity and access to achieve that balanced diet when families dine out." Martin says most restaurant owners have found the implementation process to be fairly easy. "It's all about making sure the restaurants see it as a valuable marketing tool for them," she says. "I don't think there's a good reason for restaurants to say no to this. These options encourage families to go there." Read more about the Eat Healthy BR initiative and get your fill of more local culinary news in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter.
Unemployment rate rises to 6.7% on addition of 175K U.S. jobs last month
U.S. employers added 175,000 jobs in February—up from 129,000 in January—but the unemployment rate nonetheless rose to 6.7% from a five-year low of 6.6% as more Americans began seeking jobs but many didn't find them, the Commerce Department reports this morning. Despite the uptick in the unemployment rate, The Associated Press reports, the figures came as a welcome surprise after recent government reports showed that harsh weather had closed factories, lowered auto sales and slowed home sales. Along with an increase in wages last month, today's report suggests that employers are confident that consumer spending will pick up in coming months. "If the economy managed to generate 175,000 new jobs in a month when the weather was so severe, once the weather returns to seasonal norms ... employment growth is likely to accelerate further," Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, says in a note to clients. The severe weather experienced across much of America last month appears to have had little effect on payrolls. Construction companies, which usually stop work in bad weather, added 15,000 jobs. Manufacturing gained 6,000 for the second month in a row. Government added 13,000 jobs, the most in six months. Shipping and warehousing companies and retailers cut jobs. Read the full story.
Years likely needed for U.S. LNG exports to blunt Russia energy sales
U.S. efforts to speed natural gas exports as a way to loosen Russia's grip on European energy supplies may be thwarted by lengthy reviews and developer reluctance to proceed with multibillion-dollar projects, Bloomberg reports. Russia's military escalation in Ukraine is spurring calls in Congress for quick U.S. approval of plans to export liquefied natural gas from plants owned by companies including Cheniere Energy Inc., Dominion Resources Inc. and Sempra Energy. Russia provides 30% of Europe's gas needs using pipelines that cross Ukraine. While the shale-gas boom has made the U.S. the world's largest natural gas producer, efforts to ship the fuel are bogged down by rules, financing needs and construction demands. Winning U.S. approval can take three years or longer, and not all companies planning a project are committed to completing the work. Only one facility—Cheniere's $10 billion Sabine Pass terminal in Cameron Parish—has the required approvals from the Energy Department and U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Shipments are scheduled to start in late 2015, according to the company. "We only have one approved license actually, and the molecules still aren't going to flow for a while," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told reporters earlier this week at a major energy conference in Houston. After the Cheniere license, the most optimistic view for the next set of LNG shipments to leave the U.S. isn't until 2017 or 2018, according to Moniz. "So, there's still quite a ways to go," he says. Read the full story. Today, Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, says he's co-sponsored legislation to accelerate the approval process for LNG exports to our allies, which would likely include Ukraine. "This would help to relieve nations that are potentially dependent on Russian fuel supplies by providing them with U.S. oil and gas," reads a press release from Cassidy's office.
News roundup: Common Core curriculum guides now available to La. teachers … Shell to launch motor oil made from natural gas today … U.S. trade deficit rose to $39.1 billion in January
Here it is: Louisiana teachers and school systems now have access to state-accepted curricula for meeting new Common Core State Standards for math and English and detailed guides to help plan classes. Gannett Louisiana reports that state Superintendent John White revealed the curriculum and guide to reporters in a webinar presentation Thursday afternoon, saying the implementation of any curriculum is up to local school systems and that what he released is to be used as a guide by teachers. "In Louisiana, curriculum remains a local decision," White says. Some teachers have complained that the state is requiring tougher standards but gave no guide for reaching them. Read the full story.
Pretty slick: Natural gas probably isn't running your car, but it soon may be lubricating your engine. As FuelFix.com reports, Royal Dutch Shell has produced motor oil from natural gas, a product that is now available in stores, the company is set to announce today. "Shell is unique in having this product, and they are not selling it to others and it will make a great motor oil, there's no doubt about it," says Stephen Ames, managing director for SBA Consulting, which consults for the lubricants and refining industries. "Will it be better than other people's motor oil remains to be seen." Read the full story.
Goods news: The U.S. trade deficit widened slightly in January as a rise in imports of oil and other foreign goods offset a solid increase in exports. The trade deficit increased to $39.1 billion, up 0.3% from December's revised $39 billion deficit, the Commerce Department reports this morning. In 2013, the trade deficit dropped 11.2% to $474.9 billion, providing a small boost to overall growth. The Associated Press reports economists believe that trade will contribute to growth again this year but only by a modest amount. They are forecasting that U.S. exports will keep rising, but that this will be offset somewhat by gains in imports as a stronger U.S. dollar and higher consumer spending attracts more foreign goods. Read the full story.