BEAM: Education And The Coastal Lawsuits Are Key Issues

The Common Core and coastal lawsuit session of the Louisiana Legislature begins at noon Monday. No, those aren’t the only two reasons the 144 members of the lawmaking branch will get together, but they definitely top the agenda.

Common Core is that controversial program that sets new standards for public education, which has been adopted by 45 states. Supporters think it’s the answer to Louisiana’s poor education rankings, and believe it will make it possible for students to effectively compete in the state and national workplace.

Opponents have been active, claiming it’s a federal attempt to take over local schools. They want the state to come up with its own standards. Those who are most vocal in their opposition want to see Common Core abolished. Others want some major changes in the program.

John White, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hand-picked state superintendent of education, started the program, but the governor has turned lukewarm on the issue. Don’t look for him to be a major factor in the outcome. He doesn’t want to damage his national conservative image.

Anyone who tells you they know how this issue will end up would only be guessing. However, look for some lively debate.

The lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies is solidly in second place. It wants those companies to repair the coastal damage caused by their canals and other past oil and gas exploration activities.

You can count Jindal in on this one. He attacks the lawsuit, saying the flood protection agency is usurping state authority and giving trial lawyers a shot at claiming major legal fees if the suit is successful.

Lawsuit opponents have an edge to start. He is state Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, who has a number of bills designed to derail the suit. He offers no apologies for being an industry man himself.

Adley told The Advocate, “The damage here is that, if Louisiana lets rogue committees like this file suit against people who didn’t violate the law, you are never going to have any business here, period.”

Author John Barry, a former flood protection authority member who was a major player in filing the suit, is just as stubborn. He told a group last week Adley’s bills should offend people everywhere and play into the view that oil and gas interests are above the law.

“They (the bills) are really attacks on the citizens of Louisiana,” he told the newspaper. “The law is the great equalizer.”

Many legislators are beneficiaries of campaign funds from some of those oil and gas companies, so it will be interesting to see how they vote on Adley’s legislation.

A group founded by Barry and other lawsuit supporters has released a poll showing 74 percent of the citizens surveyed don’t want the Legislature to stop the suit. The best outcome would be for both sides to come to some kind of agreement before the suit gets to court, but that is probably a long shot.

Democratic legislators who want the state to expand the Medicaid program under Obamacare haven’t given up their efforts to force the state’s participation, which has been emphatically rejected by Jindal. It has been estimated that as many as an additional 300,000 Louisiana citizens would be able to join Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, if the state agreed to participate.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, is sponsoring proposed Medicaid constitutional amendments over which the governor has no veto power. However, getting the issue to the voters will be difficult because it takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve constitutional amendments.

State minimum wage bills have been filed that would increase the hourly wage to as much as $10.10 per hour. The federal minimum is $7.25. Jindal is expected to veto any that might reach his desk. However, Nevers is trying another constitutional amendment on this issue as well.

Polls show people favor a higher wage, but business and industry groups are opposed. The odds of a higher wage being approved are slim.

Major retirement reform isn’t expected, but cost-of-living raises for retired state employees, educators and others are expected to be approved. And there are proposed retirement changes that would only affect new employees.

Legislators also expect to deal with some of Jindal’s education reform efforts that were rejected by state courts. However, the sentiment to approve any major changes doesn’t appear to exist.

Those easy-to-get, pay-day loans are being targeted. Legislation has been filed that would reduce their interest to 36 percent, a tough goal for the bill sponsors. Many of those who take out those loans don’t want their ability to get them jeopardized, even though the annual interest rate on some of them is as high as 300 percent.

The American Press will be in Baton Rouge to keep you up-to-date on the latest developments, which promise to be extremely spirited in a number of areas. We hope legislators remember they are there to represent you, not the special interests.

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