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|Lawmakers prep for Regular Session|
Dealing with Gov. Bobby Jindal's $31-billion proposed budget will be one of the toughest tasks facing lawmakers in the Regular Session of the Legislature, state Sen. Mike Walsworth said this week.
The Regular Session begins Monday; it is scheduled to run through June.
Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he wondered if the state would move for a more fiscally conservative budget or "continue to move down the road we've gone down for the last 30 years."
"Will we have the real fortitude and strength to make some very tough decisions over the next three months?" Walsworth said. "I hope we do."
Walsworth cautioned that, unless legislators make "tough decisions," Louisiana could continue to lag behind other southern states in economic growth.
Walsworth also expects education spending to be a top priority during the Regular Session.
Though Louisiana currently spends more per student than the southern regional average, Walsworth said public schools still have a hard time keeping teachers in the classroom.
That is why Jindal proposed a teacher's bill of rights to help address discipline problems in the classroom, Walsworth said.
"Some of our best teachers are finding it a lot better to go into the private sector at huge pay cuts for a more rewarding experience," Walsworth said.
Walsworth also would like to see debate on a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to return portions of revenue surpluses to taxpayers.
Current state law prohibits returning surpluses to the people, according to Walsworth. He pointed to significant budget surpluses during the past five years as a reason why the proposed amendment is important.
"At least we ought to have part of the debate about refunding some of that money to the people because they can absolutely spend it better than we can," Walsworth said.
State Rep. Frank Hoffman called the two special sessions in January and February "good training for new legislators."
Hoffmann was referring to a special legislative session in February that dealt with ethics reform and a second special session that dealt with tax cuts for business and industry, as well as the expenditure of a $1-billion budget surplus stemming from the 2006-07 fiscal year.
"The two special sessions certainly helped the newcomers like myself learn the scope of things," said Hoffman, R-West Monroe. "We got oriented and now we're ready to get going."
Hoffman expected workforce development to take center stage during the Regular Session.
"Workforce development marries to the two things I'm interested in and that's the business community and education community," Hoffman said.
Hoffman believes the Legislature must tackle workforce development if Louisiana is to become more competitive on a national level.
"If we're going to have all these different economic development initiatives, then we're going to have to have the workforce to do the jobs," Hoffman said.
State Sen. Bob Kostelka echoed Hoffman's comments. He said Jindal's campaign promise of a high school redesign will be on the agenda in the Regular Session.
"This is something I think is needed," said Kostelka, R-Monroe.
During his campaign for governor, Jindal proposed a number of changes to the state high school programs, including the incorporation of trade school classes and job training into high school curriculums.
Kostelka compared Jindal's proposal to plans already in place in Texas and Alabama.
"They graduate almost equal numbers of technical school and college graduates," Kostelka said.
He contrasted that with Louisiana, which graduates less than four percent of its students from technical and vocational schools.
"We need to make sure money is redirected and goes into the trade school programs because that's where we need it," Kostelka said.