As prepared for delivery:
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Legislature, distinguished guests and my fellow Louisianans:
Thank you for being here today.
I know you haven’t been away for very long, but I hope that in the past week you have had time to rest and refocus on the work that we have ahead of us. I do not want the roadblocks of the special session to hamper us from what’s most important – making life better for the people of this great state.
While I am extremely disappointed in the way things ended last week, as I know many of you are, I want to thank the many members of this body – the vast majority of you, in fact – who understood how important it was to work together toward a solution. It was encouraging to see so many of you stand here at the well urging your fellow legislators to put the people we serve ahead of the distracting political games.
Very soon we will have another opportunity – our last opportunity – to fix the fiscal cliff as we should have done in this past special session. If the recent warning sign from one of our credit rating agencies is not enough to urge us to act, perhaps this story will be. I just heard of a young man who is heading off to college next fall from Dutchtown. He had a 33 on his ACT and is an eagle scout. A model student right here in our state. After the last special session, unfortunately, he’s leaning towards going to Alabama, rather than LSU, because of the uncertainty of his TOPS scholarship. That’s the kind of story we all should dread. Losing to Alabama in the classroom should feel just as painful as losing to them on the football field.
We should dread it because, despite the lack of action during the legislative session, we really have so much to be optimistic about in our state.
We should be excited about what lies ahead in Louisiana but only if we can just move beyond the problems of the past. Every day the state of our state grows stronger. And when you look at the accomplishments we’ve made this past year, it’s easy to see that our momentum is driven by the people of this great state.
At 4.6 percent, unemployment is at its lowest point in a decade, and in 2017, we saw record employment in construction, education, and healthcare.
We are chipping away at our nearly $14 billion backlog of infrastructure projects. And although it’s not enough, we are finding innovative ways to deliver key priorities to communities around the state. Back in January, we announced that $600 million in funding that will be used to construct three major projects – the widening of I-10 from the Mississippi River Bridge to the I-10/I-12 split, a new interchange on I-10 in Kenner at Loyola Drive for the new airport terminal, and a new access from I-20 to Barksdale Air Force Base.
Just last week it was announced that Site Selection magazine has once again ranked Louisiana among the top 10 states in the country for economic development investments on a per capita basis. Area Development ranks us among the top 5 states for doing business. And Thumbtack ranks us in the top 4 in the nation for small business friendliness.
In 2017 alone, we landed 43 new projects totaling $4.6 billion in capital investment in parishes all across the state – including DXC Technologies, which is being hailed as the second best economic development deal in the country last year and certainly the largest in the history of Louisiana. With these projects we added over 13,000 new direct and indirect jobs, and overall nearly 24,000 more Louisianans gained employment.
That wasn’t an accident. When Stephen Hilton, the executive Vice President of DXC explained why they chose New Orleans, he said that it was not only a place that could attract millennials but also the next generation of talent. Time after time the business community is saying yes to Louisiana. Yes to new investments. Yes to expansion projects. Yes to maintaining existing businesses. And they are saying yes because we have a vision for our state and our people.
I’d like to recognize one of those companies today. Andy Johnson, with Graphic Packaging. Andy, would you please stand?
Last spring, we announced that Graphic Packaging International would be reinvesting in Northeast Louisiana with an all-new, 1.27 million-square-foot carton manufacturing and logistics center in Monroe. That state of the art center will be one of the largest and most efficient anywhere in the world. Today in Louisiana, Graphic Packaging employs 1,000 people at three Northeast Louisiana facilities and produces $4.7 billion in annual economic output.
Andy, we thank you and Graphic Packaging International for being such outstanding partners and ambassadors for our state. Thank you for your vision and your commitment to Louisiana’s future.
These economic successes over the last year are driven by our dedication to a trained workforce capable of handling the good paying jobs the private sector is creating. By transforming our approach to higher education, meaning that when we adequately fund higher education, we’re making an investment in our economy, we have been able to deliver big wins for our state. This year, we stabilized funding for higher education. This has resulted in an increase in admission requests at our universities and community and technical colleges across the board – signaling to industries around the world that we are ready to invest in workforce development and to our students that we believe in their future. However, that’s not the message we’ve been sending most recently. Enrollment isn’t going to continue trending upward without a stable budget. We’ve seen the consequences of this already. So just remember – when a special session goes by without any action, you aren’t failing me. You’re failing that kid from Dutchtown and the thousands of others like him around the state.
But in order to have productive workers, you also need healthy workers, which is why we are committed to improving health outcomes in Louisiana.
The best news is that our approach is working. Medicaid expansion continues to change lives – over 460,000 working people have enrolled as of our most recent count, our uninsured rate has been sliced by more than half, and expansion is producing savings for Louisiana’s budget.
Most importantly though, Medicaid expansion is saving lives. Additionally, expansion is helping us address Louisiana’s opioid crisis by giving more people access to the treatment they need. Through expansion, nearly 16,000 people have received inpatient or outpatient treatment for substance abuse. That’s 16,000 more people who have a second chance at life and 16,000 fewer families who will have to suffer the heartbreak of losing a loved one to addiction.
We reduced the number of opioid prescriptions last year by 15 percent. And for Medicaid patients, there has been a 40 percent decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed since the first month of expansion in July of 2016.
If you doubt for even a second the importance of Medicaid expansion in fighting the opioid epidemic, just ask one of the guests I am pleased to have with me today. Khadija Lamraoui (kuh-dee-juh, lam-rao-ee) please stand. Khadija, who is employed as a mental health technician, applied for Medicaid years ago but was not eligible. Like so many, she fell into the gap of not qualifying for traditional Medicaid, but she also did not receive coverage through her work, because it was unaffordable. And like so many, Khadija struggled with opioid addiction. After receiving healthcare through expansion, she was able to receive treatment through Oxford House. And on April 4, she will have reached her one year milestone of sobriety. Khadija, it took a lot of courage for you to be here today, and I want to thank you for sharing your story.
Speaking of second chances, last year we came together and passed the most comprehensive and bipartisan criminal justice reform measures in the history of the state.
When I ran for governor, I said that by the end of my first term – Louisiana would lose its decades-long position as the nation’s top incarcerator by making strategic changes to our criminal justice system that will improve public safety, and in turn, save our state money that we will reinvest in programs that reduce crime and recidivism. We knew the status quo wasn’t working, and our outdated practices weren’t making us any safer. Not only that, we were hemorrhaging money on a system that wasn’t addressing the root problems to reduce crime and recidivism. Well, very soon we will be able to say that we no longer lead the nation in imprisonment, and we have already exceeded our expected savings goal for the first year. But now it is up to us to be disciplined enough to make good on our promise to reinvest 70 percent of the savings to improve public safety.
We did that by working together. By bringing together the business community, religious leaders, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, community leaders and law enforcement we are writing a new chapter for Louisiana.
We certainly did not agree on everything. We talked. We compromised. There was give and take among everyone there. That should be our guiding principle going into this regular session now and beyond.
I realize there are some politicians peddling fear and scare tactics. But, by focusing on non-violent, non-sex offenders and strategies successfully implemented in other southern conservative states, you summoned the courage to change course, and I am confident that we are on the road to safer communities. Those other states saw their crime rates decline significantly. We’ve followed that same model here in Louisiana, and in time, we will see the same results.
Criminal justice brought people of different viewpoints together. In a similar way, we were brought together with our neighbors in other states last year due to natural disasters. I’ve always known that the people of Louisiana are resilient. We’ve proved that more than ever over the past two years. 2016 was a year of loss for far too many Louisianans. And yet, when hurricanes pummeled our neighbors last year the same people who had lost everything in the floods a year before hauled out their boats and went to the aid of fellow Americans from Texas to Florida to Puerto Rico. So I want to take a moment to thank those individuals – the Cajun Navy, the National Guard, our DCFS workers, who did an amazing job running shelters in Alexandria and Shreveport. Donna and I personally visited the shelter in Alexandria multiple times and saw the compassion they put into taking care of our neighbors from Texas.
We have with us today three of the individuals who helped run the Alexandria Mega Shelter -Daniel Doyle, Sharla Thomas, and Kim McCain. Would y’all please stand to be recognized? We want to thank you for the long days and even longer nights you and your colleagues spent providing a safe and welcoming environment for the victims of last year’s hurricanes. Please join me in giving them a round of applause.
In addition to their disaster efforts, DCFS has been working to ensure that every child in its care has a permanent and loving home.
DCFS was one of 8 states to receive a national grant to develop strategies to recruit and retain highly skilled child welfare workers.
In 2017, we reunited nearly 2,600 children with their birth families. And for a second year in a row, we set another adoption record with 771 children finding their forever home. These are our children, Louisiana’s children, and we’ve given them a brighter tomorrow.
One of those families is here today. Dawn and David Moss have three biological children. But they knew there was room in their home and in their hearts for more. So they answered the call to become foster parents. After fostering children for six years, they officially grew their family by five when they adopted Aubri, who is 8, Thomas, who is 7, Emmett, who is 6, Zane, who is 5, and Luci, who is 4. Reminds me of my family growing up – 8 kids born in 10 years. I’m going to ask them to stand and for you to join me in giving the Moss family and their adoption specialist Judy Batiste a big round of applause.
This session, we will be building on all these accomplishments and so much more. I am teaming up with Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike. We are building on that incredible wave of momentum. Soliciting ideas from all across the state – the business community, small business owners, seniors, students, parents and law enforcement, the legislative agenda I am proposing to you today is as bold and diverse as the people of our great state.
Small businesses make up 99.5 percent of all businesses in the state and employ over half of Louisiana’s private workforce. They aren’t just the backbone of our economy, they are at the very heart of our communities. That’s why it is important to cultivate an environment that will allow small businesses to flourish.
I am asking you to create a Louisiana Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council charged with helping small businesses remain competitive in Louisiana.
We are cutting through the red tape and giving small businesses regulatory relief that costs them money and are overly burdensome. Louisiana ranks as the 6th worst in the nation for convoluted occupational licensing requirements. We can fix that. To ensure we are maximizing our efforts to provide regulatory relief, I have directed my cabinet to review all regulations, especially related to small businesses, and identify areas where can provide relief. Further, we will be establishing an Occupational Licensing Review. First up - repealing licensing requirements for florists, which we are the only state in the nation to require.
In addition, we are going to make it easier for the spouses and children of military families to get occupational licensing so that they can support their families when they are stationed here in Louisiana or have to be separated from their loved ones during a deployment. Service members are not the only ones who make sacrifices for our country. I know personally how difficult it is to uproot your family and move every few years. We want to make it easier for military families who come to Louisiana to get the licensing they need to seamlessly continue their careers here. Therefore we will be taking several measures to enter into multistate licensure compacts and waiving certain fees for military families.
The impacts of our efforts to streamline government will be far reaching. Let’s make it easier for families to get out and enjoy all the natural beauty Louisiana has to offer. This is the Sportsman’s paradise after all. Our efforts will seek to streamline recreational hunting and fishing licenses by reducing the number of licenses from 117 to 30.
We will also build on our efforts to end childhood hunger in Louisiana where 1 in 4 children remain in poverty. Last year, Donna and I launched Louisiana’s No Kid Hungry Initiative. In October we held the first statewide Breakfast Challenge, and 306 schools participated providing over 147,000 more meals to students. This session, we will ensure that students are not stigmatized when they cannot afford to pay for a meal. When we are able to give students a well-balanced meal at the start of the day, they perform better, they are less likely to act out, which allows our teachers to focus their efforts on teaching.
One of the things I’ve learned serving as chair of the Southern Region Education Board is that improving public education should never be a competition among states but rather a collaborative effort to learn from each other. Therefore, we will create the Early Childhood Care and Education Commission, which will work closely in partnership with the National Governor’s Association.
Recognizing the hard work of our teachers, we will support legislation that will allow them to acquire tenure if they have “effective” or “highly effective” ratings for 5 out of 6 years, and knowing that value added model for teacher evaluations was not implemented as intended by its creators and by its principal champion in the legislature – your own Representative Frank Hoffmann - we will reduce the part that the Value Added Model, or VAM, plays in a teacher’s evaluation from 35% to 15% to promote fairness and consistency.
And understandably, there is a national conversation happening right now about how we can better protect our children when they are at schools. As this conversation moves forward, we must drown out the political noise and focus on the issue at hand. We must work together by bringing in law enforcement, school officials, educators, parents and students. Our priority is public safety for our children, and I am hopeful we can have a constructive dialogue here in Louisiana over the course of this session.
And to further increase opportunities for all children, we must find ways to lift families out of poverty. Louisiana has the second highest poverty rate in the country and the 3rd highest child poverty rate. I am committed to doing everything in my power to change that narrative, which is why we will be coordinating a strategic effort among state departments with the Moving Families from Poverty to Empowerment Strategic Plan.
A critical part of this effort is establishing a minimum wage that produces a modest but meaningful pay increase and passing the Louisiana Equal Pay Act. Louisiana has the highest wage inequity in the entire country. Everyone in this room should be offended that a woman makes only 66 cents for every dollar a man makes. She doesn’t get charged any less when she’s buying groceries for her family, and she shouldn’t get paid any less when she’s working the same job as a man every day. 91 percent of the people of Louisiana support the Louisiana Equal Pay Act. Why? Simply because it’s the right thing to do. The same goes for raising the minimum wage. 18 states raised their minimum wage at the beginning of 2018, and yet Louisiana remains one of only 5 states not to have adopted a state minimum wage at all. Let’s raise the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour over two years.
Additionally, we must confront the horrific reality that more women die during pregnancy and childbirth in Louisiana than nearly anywhere else in the county. It’s 2018. Women should not be dying at such an alarming rate due to child birth. I have tasked the Louisiana Department of Health with examining the factors contributing to the increased cases of maternal mortality in our state and developing an extensive report on the policy and practice recommendations we can implement. While I am speaking to you today, at least two children will be born. We may never meet them directly, but what we do here – or don’t do here – will profoundly affect them. Chances are they will be born in a rural hospital. Our actions directly affect whether that mother can get to the hospital in time for a safe, healthy delivery. We owe it to mothers to make Louisiana a safe and sound place to give birth and build a family.
I also firmly believe that every person, whether they work in state government or private industry, should be able to go to work each day without fear of sexual harassment or discrimination. I have said repeatedly that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the state of Louisiana nor will we allow victims to feel bullied or silenced. I created a taskforce to address these very issues. I have received their recommendations and reviewed best practices from around the country, and we are now ready to begin implementing these changes in Louisiana. They include lifting the veil of secrecy by prohibiting employers from mandating forced arbitration, protecting the identity of individuals reporting instances of sexual harassment or discrimination from public disclosure, and requiring annual sexual harassment training for all public employees and elected officials.
But we’re not just protecting our workers, we’re also standing up for our students. One of the scariest moments of a parent’s life is when you send your kid off to college. Last fall, we lost an 18-year-old student with his entire life ahead of him. No family should ever have to feel the pain that Max Gruver’s family is currently feeling. And no student should feel pressured into or subjected to reckless and life threatening hazing rituals. That is why we will be supporting legislation that requires hazing prevention education. Arming students with the knowledge to identify and report instances of hazing could save a life down the road.
Finally, I believe that as a society, we are judged by how well we treat our young and our old. Right now, we are not doing enough to protect our aging population from abuse at the hands of caregivers, strangers, or even family members. Therefore, we will seek to strengthen the penalties for sexual violence against the elderly. We will also work to curb the financial exploitation of seniors by requiring suspicious activity be reported to financial institutions or flagged by the banks themselves.
These are just some of the priorities I have set for this Regular Session. As I hope you can see, the vast majority of these bills are efforts I know we can all get behind.
There is no denying that we have some very difficult work ahead of us. In this session, you are also supposed to pass a budget. As I’ve said before, I do not support or consider the budget recommendations I was constitutionally obligated to present back in January as a reasonable option. I’m certain the majority of you don’t either. I especially know that your constituents do not want it implemented. That is why we should have fixed the fiscal cliff when I gave you the opportunity a couple weeks ago. However, many of you have suggested that the fiscal cliff could be solved by simply making spending cuts. I think what many of you will find is that it is much harder than it seems because when you cut funding you cut a service that someone in this state relies on. But, if that’s what you truly believe, now is your opportunity. To those that say we can cut our way out of this, it’s your time to step up to the plate and make the specific cuts that you insist can be made.
I remain of the opinion that we need to end this session in mid-May, as President Alario, Speaker Barras and I have discussed, so that we can enter another special session at no additional expense to taxpayers. And no, it will not be easy. I never said that it would be, but I believe it will be necessary.
However, the things that we can accomplish over this regular session should be easy. Every single one of the goals I just mentioned has one very important thing in common – our people. I want to make life better for workers throughout our industries, for students, for children in need, for seniors, for emergency responders, for teachers, for business owners, for military families, for the vulnerable and poor, for your family and my family.
The state of Louisiana is great because our people have dared to be great. We have some remarkable things going for us. We’ve got the natural resources and booming industries. We’ve got the largest port not only in America but in the entire western hemisphere. We’ve got bright young minds who want to stay here as long as we give them the opportunity to be successful. I’ve always known Louisiana is the greatest state in the nation. Now let’s prove it to the rest of the world.
You know, there is a quote etched into one of the cornerstones of this building that says, “We live for those we love.”
Every single one of us is here today because we love this state. We love its people. And that love is what drives us to come back, session after session, year after year, and work toward solutions for the problems we face and the prosperity we know is within our reach.
Together, we can leave behind an even greater Louisiana “for those we love.”
I’m not just optimistic – I’m confident that Louisiana’s best days are ahead. Let’s get there together.
May God bless you, may God bless the United States of America, and may God bless the great State of Louisiana.