WAGUESPACK: It’s Carnival Time At The Capitol

Throw me something, mister.

Get used to hearing that phrase because our annual tradition we know so well is here again. You know the one I am talking about. It is the time of year where our citizens habitually flock to their typical spot to beg and plead with members of a select krewe to shower them with trinkets and gifts. That’s right, legislative session time is here.

Of course, this is also Mardi Gras week and it is fitting this year that it occurs one week before the 2014 legislative session kicks off. The Mardi Gras celebrations, parades, and excess of food and beverage that will occur all across the state will culminate on Fat Tuesday. On this day, it all comes to a crescendo as a last hurrah before Ash Wednesday hits, which traditionally kicks off the fasting and sacrifices during the Lenten season for many across the state.

Going into legislative session, Louisiana’s economic party is going pretty well and hopefully any hangover to follow will be light. The reality is that signs of economic improvement are starting to emerge and some of our state’s largest challenges are a byproduct of growth. Take our workforce shortage for instance.

Our need for more than 250,000 skilled workers over the next several years and the gap we have in producing students ready for the 69,000 science and math jobs we will need by 2018 is a very real problem. It is a problem that will not be solved with one silver bullet, but improving our education system to help our kids compete for the jobs of tomorrow will go a long way to get us there. I would much rather have these solvable problems than trying to desperately search for and find new available jobs for our people. The jobs are here; we just have to educate and train our kids to fill them.

Another easily solvable problem we have is Louisiana’s poor national reputation of lawsuit abuse. Pick a ranking of legal climates across the country, and we do not score well. As we slowly limp out of a national recession and companies around the globe start looking for states in which to invest, our legal climate reputation does not help secure those investments. During the last year, stories of one aggressive lawsuit after another filled our newspaper headlines, pushed by a select few attorneys working on contingency fee contracts drafted behind closed doors. These actions have consequences and our legal reputation is the victim.

The good news is that this is a self-inflicted wound that we can heal any time we decide to treat the symptoms. Other states don’t have out of touch jury trial thresholds like we do that promote judge shopping and prevent citizens and small business from requesting a jury of its peers. In Louisiana, we have hundreds of legacy lawsuits that are enriching a few and slowing down cleanup. Other states we compete with have none of these suits and quite frankly aren’t even familiar with the term. In Louisiana, we have rampant venue shopping, while other states that have adopted reasonable reforms have seen those suits decrease. While all of these are very real challenges, they are easily solvable once we have the will to take a few reasonable steps and put our system in line with other states.

While challenges face us, the truth is that they are quite easy to solve if we want to do so. Are we ready to do the little things that can make a big difference? Are we going to let red herring arguments and doomsday scenarios convince us that the status quo system is better than sensible and necessary improvements to our education and legal systems?

Just as every Mardi Gras has its unique flavor and vibe, it will be interesting to see what identity this year’s legislative session takes on. Will this year’s legislative session more closely resemble a raucous Carnival time filled with plenty of noise, excess and carefree decision-making or will it more accurately reflect the days following Fat Tuesday filled with accountability, responsibility, and sensible decisions?

Why choose at all? For once, we can finally have our King cake and eat it too because our challenges are so darn easy to solve. We don’t have to end the party to embrace accountability and sensibility this time. Let’s have some fun and improve our state at the same time. No sacrifice needed, just the will to do the right thing.

The legislative parade starts rolling next week and when it comes to smart reforms that will help our economy grow; it’s time for the Louisiana people to yell, “Throw me something, mister!”

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