Governor asks for unity in State of State Address

John DuPont
Plaquemine Post South

Gov. John Bel Edwards unveiled an agenda that includes party unity, lower insurance and increased funding for education when lawmakers convened at the State Capitol for the 2020 Legislative Session.

His State of the State Address kicked off a general session – no fiscal natters -- in which lawmakers will mull over 1,100 bills over an 85-day session that ends June 1.

The Democrat governor also pushed familiar agenda items – namely minimum wage hikes and gender pay equity – as he kicked off his second term in front of a majority-Republican House and Senate consisting largely of newcomers due to term limits.

I see many familiar faces who have worked with me over the past four years to put Louisiana on the right track,” Edwards said. “But I also see many new faces. My pledge to you, and to every member, is that I am ready to work with you, all in good faith, to set aside partisan division and continue to move Louisiana forward.”

He continued push to increase funding by $25 million for early childhood education, as well as $39 million more for additional teacher pay raises.’

Edwards promised to raise teacher pay to at least the Southern regional average by the end of his second term.

He will also commit $30 million of his proposed budget to higher education, as well as fully funding TOPS and funding Go Grants at their highest level ever.

For ten years, Louisiana disinvested in higher education more than anywhere else in the country, and we suffered the consequences,” he said. “For the next 10 years, let’s commit to reinvesting in higher education in order to strengthen our state.”

He touted the Jobs for America’s Graduates program (JAG) as an example of how the state has taken steps to build a job-ready workforce for the 21st century economy.

Edwards noted that JAG-LA currently serves 6,000 at-risk youth across the state. They have a 98 percent graduation rate and 80 percent enter full-time jobs, while 90 percent graduate high school with either a job or a post-secondary education plan.

He also pushed his own agenda to lower auto insurance rates in the state, but without support toward tort reform bills pushed by Republicans.

Edwards called on lawmakers to bar insurance companies from increasing rates based on gender, credit score, loss of spouse or military deployment

I think we can all agree that our auto insurance rates should be based on our driving records,” he said. “Not on if you’re female, or poor. Or widowed, or putting your life on the line for our country.”

Edwards also made another push toward minimum wage hikes and the close of the gender pay gap, both of which he pushed when in the inaugural speech when he began his first term in 2016.

Both bills have failed to pass out of committee.

He recommended lawmakers support a gradual increase that will begin with $9 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021 and a move up to $10 per hour six month later.

The gender pay gap legislation would also include a measure to ban employers from retaliating against workers who discuss or disclose their salary. It would also ban employers from asking an applicant’s salary history as a condition of employment.

It’s simply unacceptable that Louisiana continues to have the largest gender pay gap in the country,” Edwards said. “Quite frankly, I am ashamed. All of us should be ashamed.”

His agenda also includes a push for an African-American Military Service Members Monument, expungements for victims of human trafficking, workplace accommodations for pregnant women.

Caption: Gov. John Bel Edwards delivers his State of the State address.