Gov. John Bel Edwards released Thursday details on the legislation he has included in his 2018 Regular Session legislative agenda to advance the well-being of Louisiana children and seniors.
“Communities from across Louisiana send senators and representatives to Baton Rouge each year during the legislative session to deliberate and determine the legal changes that our state needs most in order to advance a quality of life that our people deserve,” said Gov. Edwards. “I believe that our success in that endeavor can be measured by the laws we enact to help our citizens thrive at the stages of life when they are most vulnerable—namely our children and our elderly. I am proud to join efforts with legislators across the state fighting for our children and our seniors this session.”
Protecting Our Seniors
Gov. Edwards is committed to protecting Louisiana’s aging population from unconscionable abuse often at the hands of family members, caregivers and telemarketers seeking to take advantage of elderly Louisianans.
“The dignity that seniors citizens have earned over a lifetime is extremely important,” said Gov. Edwards. “We have an obligation to strengthen our laws and protect our elders from those who would seek to abuse, neglect or take advantage of them.”
Senate Bill 355 by Sen. Danny Martiny (R-Metairie) and House Bill 505 by Rep. Thomas Carmody (R-Shreveport) empower financial institutions to curb the financial exploitation of seniors (individuals 60 years of age or older) by requiring a director, officer, employee, attorney, accountant or other agent of a financial institution who has cause to believe that financial exploitation has occurred to notify the financial institution of the suspected financial exploitation.
House Bill 398 by Rep. Gary Carter (D-New Orleans) strengthens the penalties for the crime of sexual battery of persons with infirmities from not more than 10 years to not more than 20 years of imprisonment. The measure further provides that if the victim is a resident of a nursing home, facility for persons with intellectual disabilities, mental health facility, hospital, or other residential facility and the offender is an employee of such home or facility, the offender shall be punished by imprisonment, with or without hard labor, for not more than 25 years.
Improving K-12 Education
As chair of the Southern Region Education Board, Gov. Edwards leads the collaborative work of governors, legislators and state education leaders to improve public education at every level, from early childhood through doctoral education.
“We talk about the importance of education often, but we don’t do right by our schools, teachers and students often enough,” said Gov. Edwards. “I am proud to partner with legislators who are pairing action with values in order to tackle the real challenges before us when it comes to improving k-12 education in Louisiana.”
Strengthening Early Childhood Education
Studies indicate that over 50 percent of a child’s brain development takes place by age three, making the earliest years of a child’s life critically important. High quality child care, from birth to age four, is the best way to close the “achievement gap” for children in poverty and set them on a path for success.
House Bill 676 by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty (R-Metairie) creates the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission to establish a vision for accessible, quality early childhood care and education to be implemented through pilot programs established by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at the community network level. The commission will build on the foundation established by Act 3 of the 2012 Regular Session to create a vision for the future of publicly funded early childhood care and education in Louisiana.
“This commission would bring together the sharpest minds in education to ensure Louisiana’s children are entering kindergarten with a strong educational foundation to build on so that they have access to all of the tools they might need to see educational success as they grow up,” said Gov Edwards.
No Kid Hungry Louisiana
In May 2017, Gov. Edwards announced the launch of No Kid Hungry Louisiana, a program that allows children to eat free school breakfast, lunch and summer meals . Since then, outreach to superintendents and school principals across the state encouraging the adoption of the program has resulted in a reduction of child hunger at 90 schools throughout Louisiana. In fact, 40,000 more students now have access to healthy nutritious meals. The State's first multi-agency 31-day school breakfast challenge was held in October 2017 which included 306 schools statewide and yielded an increase of 147,789 meals in just one month.
Building on those efforts, Senate Bill 245 by Sen. Blade Morrish (R-Jennings) prohibits a governing authority from taking certain actions because a student cannot pay for or owes money for a meal, including publicly identifying or stigmatizing a student, withholding school privileges, scolding the student orally or in writing; or requiring the student to throw away a meal after it has been served.
“No child should have to choose between going hungry and being made to feel less than simply because they cannot afford the price of a school lunch that day,” said Gov. Edwards. “This is about our values and making sure that all children have access to a nutritious meal while they are away at school during the day.”
Extending Foster Care
Since the elimination of the Young Adult Program in 2013, youth aging out of the Louisiana foster care system have struggled to transition from state care to life on their own with little assistance. While youth of this age continue to develop intellectual and emotional maturity, children leaving the foster care system are faced with unique needs and challenges making that transition even more challenging.
Sen. Regina Barrow’s (D-Baton Rouge) resolution will request the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to explore the feasibility of extending foster care in Louisiana through age 21, making Louisiana in step with 24 states around the nation.
“We have an obligation and a responsibility to provide the necessary resources to help the children who have been entrusted in care through our state foster care system to become productive members of our community and achieve success,” said Gov. Edwards. “Having a caring, competent adult assisting in the transition between foster care and adulthood could be the difference between failure and success later in life.”
The extension of foster care to age 21 would: