Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, my fellow statewide elected officials, members of the Legislature, my wife Supriya, honored guests, my fellow Louisianians...
Three short months ago, we all gathered outside this building with a great deal of anticipation.
We all came filled with hope and driven by the need for change. We stood together at the beginning of a new administration and a new legislature with the conviction we could do better.
In just a matter of weeks, you have turned that hope...into accomplishment. You have turned that expectation...into historic achievement.
We set out to dramatically transform our state.
And we have begun to do exactly that.
In two special sessions, you have made more progress than many legislatures in many states make in entire terms.
But instead of resting on that success, we will press on.
For there is much to do and no time to waste.
We come from many backgrounds, different communities, and different parties.
But we all agree on one central point: Louisiana is the best place in the world to raise a family.
Today, that quality of life is threatened by economic challenges...some products of neglect; some brought to us by global forces we could not control.
Our state's response to those challenges will determine the fate of Louisiana for years to come.
We have made a great start.
We have dramatically transformed the reputation of our state by passing some of the strongest ethics reforms in the country. We worked toward the gold standard and, in fact, our reforms now rank us above all of other states in disclosure, and among the best in almost every other category.
We sent a clear signal to the nation that Louisiana is not only open for business, but we are serious about long-ranging, far-reaching reform...so our young people don't have to leave home to pursue their dreams.
But, we didn't stop with changes to the way we run our government.
We came back in another special session and directly addressed a burdensome tax structure that had been left alone for far too long.
We got rid of taxes that deter investment in our state and limit the growth of our existing Louisiana businesses.
We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development... on priorities like roads, bridges, ports, and coastal restoration.
And we made comprehensive, common-sense reforms by dedicating our transportation fees to transportation needs.
We also acted as responsible stewards of taxpayer money and assisted future generations of Louisianians by paying down some of our debt to teachers and state employees, and by investing in the maintenance and upkeep of our educational institutions.
We have every right to be proud of what we've done.
But there is so much more to do.
We cannot rest until we have created a New Louisiana where every young person has an opportunity to get a high-paying job, start a great career, get a quality education, access the best health care, and raise a family in a safe community.
From the very first day, I have promised that we would work together...Republican, Democrat, North and South - because Louisianians were demanding that we speak with one voice and move our state forward.
We said we'd work together...and we did.
We threw away the old, divisive, politics of the past - and the people of Louisiana won.
The Monroe News Star said our work was quote "a resounding success."
And we succeeded in spite of the work of our opponents and the catcalls of the cynics.
The skeptics said we couldn't pass the gold standard of ethics reform in Louisiana, but we did.
They doubted that we could invest in our state's priorities while keeping a check on spending, but we did.
Some said that Louisiana couldn't change its stripes and make a new start...but we did.
And now... after our recent successes in ethics reform and tax reform... we must take the next step forward... an overhaul of our workforce development system.
Just as we did with ethics reform, we must set our bar high. We cannot be satisfied until our workforce is the most skilled and desired in the world.
We can't settle for less. There was a time when our state merely competed with neighboring states for new jobs. Now, we compete with provinces in every corner of the world. We must be up to that challenge.... and the first test comes today.
As of today, we already have nearly 100,000 job opportunities across our state - these are thousands and thousands of jobs, many in the growing industries of transportation, healthcare, manufacturing, and construction.
That's the good news. The bad news is that our Louisiana employers are struggling to fill these positions - and year after year more sit vacant; and at the same time, tens of thousands of Louisianians leave the state every year to pursue their dreams elsewhere.
While our state's unemployment rate is at its lowest point in 30 years, thousands of Louisianians are still outside the labor force entirely.
This combination of existing job vacancies paired with a high percentage of Louisianians not entering the workforce has a name... it's the Training Gap.
We have open jobs and willing workers. We must bring the two together.
The Training Gap has a ripple effect across the economy of our entire state - stretching from new businesses looking to invest here... to our existing businesses who cannot find the workers to grow and succeed, and the families forced to leave Louisiana to find opportunity.
And make no mistake, in today's fast-moving and portable economy, a company that needs to grow WILL grow...the only question is whether Louisiana reaps the benefit or one of our competitors does.
We must solve the Training Gap to make sure Louisiana is the solution and not the problem for growing companies.
Currently, 84 percent of the job opportunities in Louisiana require a two-year degree or less, yet only 12 percent of our high school graduates receive an associate's degree.
Future job projections show more than half of the new jobs created within the next six years will require a two-year degree.
If we do not dramatically transform the way we train our high school graduates, the gap between the skills of our workforce and the work will widen and cripple our economy; and more Louisiana families will continue to leave our state in search of opportunities to pursue their dreams.
That changes, starting now.
The answer is not complicated. In fact, we have seen glimpses of it already in Louisiana.
I want to tell you briefly about Scott Guitreau, of St. Amant, in Ascension Parish.
Scott began working in construction after high school in 1999. He did odd jobs and because of the shortage of work, he frequently had to travel for work and was even laid off for a few months at a time. Scott had started a family and had four daughters. His frequent job changes and traveling were becoming a strain.
Scott was in search of something better and, in 2002, he applied for a scholarship to enter the PTEC program and he was fortunate to be awarded a scholarship that paid for his books, tuition, and other fees.
Six months after Scott graduated from the two-year program at River Parish Community College, he was hired by Shell Chemical to work as a process technician. Today, Scott says: "I now have a career instead of just a job." He no longer travels for work and has even went on to get a bachelor's of science in petroleum services from Nicholls and an associate's degree in safety technology.
Scott and his family are here with us today. Please help me welcome him.
With your help and hard work, more Louisianians can follow Scott's same road to success in life.
In this session of the legislature, our effort to transform our workforce will focus on five key areas:
First, we must prioritize our community and technical programs to meet the demands of employers.
I want to be clear: Government cannot, and should not, work alone to accomplish this goal.
We must partner with the business community, high schools, technical schools, and local communities to be as effective as possible in training our workers.
For example, when the Lake Charles community realized that they needed workers with Process Plant Technology training, McNeese worked with local plants to develop a bachelor's degree program in this area.
The same thing is happening now at Sowela Community College, where Conoco-Phillips is funding a new process technology facility. Enrollment at Sowela has gone from just 100 students four years ago to currently more than 400 students - with more expected next year.
To effectively establish "centers of excellence" at our community and technical campuses to focus on key industries in each economic region, we need to match the needs of employers to the skills of our workers.
For this to work, we must immediately begin to invest $10 million annually to fund these high-demand, high-cost training programs, which will meet market demands and employment projections.
We must also guarantee to Louisiana employers that if you hire someone with a degree or certificate from one of our technical colleges, they will be ready to work for you on Day One.
A "Day One Guarantee" tells employers that if they hire someone who does not have the skills they need to get to work right away, we will retrain them for free.
Additionally, we need to change our higher education funding formula to reward high-demand, high-cost programs. It makes no sense for technical colleges to make money training nail technicians, while losing money training the nurses and welders that are so desperately needed by their communities.
Secondly, to transform our workforce development efforts, we will establish the "Louisiana Fast Start Program" so we can quickly respond to workforce opportunities and challenges in the state.
The Fast Start Program will provide customized workforce solutions for businesses and enable Louisiana workers to attend expedited classes and training so they can more immediately meet the changing needs of our economy.
We must make sure that Louisiana is better and faster at getting new, or expanding, employers off the ground than any other state or province in North America.
Third, we must maximize the role of business in our workforce training programs and tear down the current structure to build a re-designed, well-coordinated system geared toward a 21st century workforce.
In order to do this, we must replace the existing Department of Labor.
This will move Louisiana toward a business-minded approach to workforce programs, driven by the needs of local employers and away from a bureaucratic system.
It's time to put businesses and workers - not government bureaucrats - in the driver's seat.
Fourth, we must implement a High School Redesign plan to expand the career options of high school students by allowing them early participation in community and technical college programs.
Many of our kids drop out of high school before completing, without an idea of what career paths await them; ...Or, even worse, they struggle to remain in the workforce at all because they are not aware of the training options and opportunities available to them.
That changes starting now.
I am including $4 million in this year's budget to enhance dual enrollment programs for our high school students so they can get technical training for free even before they graduate.
I love it when kids go to universities, but the reality is that not every child will go to a university.
We must provide a path to opportunity for these students through dual enrollment programs beginning when they are still in high school.
My budget also calls for investing $4.5 million in skill-based training to meet the rising demand for a technology-skilled workforce.
Fifth and finally, we must recruit and train new workers to fill the nearly one-hundred thousand existing, vacant jobs we have today.
We must also reach out to those Louisianians currently outside of our workforce who can match the demands of our businesses but may lack the exact skills they need or are unaware of the many opportunities for their employment.
These are the five fundamental components to transforming our workforce system in this session. Some of these are reforms that have been discussed before, but none of these reforms can wait another generation, or another year, while the gap between the skills of our workforce and the demands of our businesses grows wider.
This must change. That change begins now.
In addition to overhauling our workforce development programs, we will also tackle many other challenges facing our state in this session - by working toward a New Louisiana where every child has access to a high-quality education, every Louisianian has access to affordable health care, and every family can raise their children in a safe community.
The vital foundation for workforce training is, of course, a great education.
It is critically important that we continue to support early childhood education to prepare our children for a lifetime of success.
By increasing funding by $2.5 million for the LA4 program in this budget, we will provide more children with the opportunity to enroll in an instructional day program that teaches them reading and writing before they enter school. Thanks to the legislature's previous support of this program, Louisiana currently ranks in the top 10 states in the country for funding early childhood education.
Unfortunately, we still rank among the worst in the country when it comes to students' reading and math scores. Investing in the "The Ensuring Literacy and Numeracy for All" Program will train our school leaders, and reading and math specialists to better prepare students struggling with their reading and math skills.
We know that one of the best ways to ensure our children get a high quality education is to put a good teacher in every classroom.
Sadly, about half of our new teachers are not in Louisiana's public schools within five years of graduating... and one of the top reasons they list for leaving is the lack of discipline in the classroom.
On yet another national list - Louisiana ranks 39th out of 40 states reviewed for discipline in classroom.
That changes starting now.
We must give our teachers the confidence that we will stand behind them when they do their jobs.
Despite the existing laws on the books, too many of our teachers do not feel protected today. We must pass a Teachers Bill of Rights - to reaffirm the rights of our teachers to teach and to discipline.
They need the support of principals, superintendents, school board officials and most importantly, we, the parents.
Schools should be safe-havens for students - and places of learning and growth.
To send this message loud and clear, we must also double the penalty against anyone who assaults a teacher in the classroom.
While we reaffirm our support for teachers in the classroom, we must also respect teachers in their pay.
Last year, the legislature raised teacher pay to the Southern Regional average - and I commend you.
Louisiana's 2008 High School Teacher of the Year, Michelle Roy, who teaches at the Louisiana School for Agricultural Science in Bunkie is here with us today. Please help me welcome her.
In order to keep excellent teachers, like Michelle, in every classroom, my budget this year commits more than $70 million to teacher pay raises. This funding gives every teacher in our state a pay raise of at least $1,000.
We must also give additional incentives to our teachers by providing school districts with flexible funding to reward outstanding teachers or provide teacher incentives to meet unique needs.
For example, flexible funding of $20 million can be used by school districts to recruit teachers in subjects where we consistently lag behind, such as math and science.
...Unfortunately, not every child in our state today has an equal opportunity to get a quality education.
Too many families, particularly those in low-income areas, are forced to send their kids to a failing school simply because of their zip code or their bank balance. That must end.
No child in America, and no child in Louisiana, should be trapped in a failing school.
That changes starting now.
My budget calls for investing $8.5 million into the Recovery School District so students falling behind can participate in extended-day programs and receive one-on-one instruction to bring them back up to grade level.
We must also provide educational scholarships to parents in Orleans Parish who often have no choice for their children other than the local failing school.
These scholarships follow a very simple and pure American principle... that every child has an equal right to good opportunities and a good education.
By reforming education in Louisiana - by expanding early childhood education, investing in teacher salaries, and putting discipline back in the classroom - we will see the difference in our workforce... in our court system... and in our neighborhoods. And most importantly, we will see the difference in the faces and futures of young lives.
...As we work toward a New Louisiana, the current challenges in our healthcare system cannot be overlooked. The health and welfare of our people provides the foundation for all other accomplishments in our state.
Louisiana currently ranks fourth worst in the country for non-emergency use of emergency rooms. We must provide better primary and preventative health care to keep our people from ending up in the emergency room and save thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Too many people with mental health issues today are slipping through the cracks and ending up in our emergency rooms and in our criminal justice system.
The broken pieces of our mental healthcare system affect every Louisianian, but the problem is especially acute in New Orleans.
New Orleans officials estimate the annual suicide rate has more than tripled since Hurricane Katrina...And the World Health Organization estimates that tens of thousands of people in the storm-effected region today have a serious mental illness.
That changes starting now.
We must take a comprehensive approach to addressing this crisis - one that incorporates the needs of patients, law enforcement, and the community as a whole.
Last week, I announced "Nicola's Law," named after New Orleans officer Nicola Cotton, who was shot and killed by a mentally ill patient in New Orleans just months ago. Nicola's Law will require a patient to receive the help they need even when they themselves will not voluntarily do so.
In this budget, we are also including more than $89 million in additional funding for mental health care: including more than $26 million for new initiatives like crisis intervention services and receiving centers, funding for 100 inpatient beds, and mental health care emergency room extensions. This budget also provides more than $60 million toward fully funding other state and federal mental health programs.
Thanks to your work, Louisiana currently ranks 10th best in the nation for providing health insurance for low-income children. This budget also provides $10 million in funding to allow more Louisiana children to receive health insurance through the Louisiana Children's Health Insurance Program.
Studies show that up to 100,000 Americans die every year from avoidable medical errors, and that nurses spend an hour filling out paperwork for every hour they provide in care, in many hospital settings.
That changes starting now.
We are providing more than $18 million to assist physicians and rural hospitals with the implementation of electronic medical records.
And we are beginning an initiative called "E-Prescribing" that allows secure electronic access and use of a patient's medical records to prevent errors and help physicians make more informed decisions.
The development of the Louisiana Health Information Exchange will provide a seamless flow of patient data from hospitals, insurance companies, and physicians across the state to ensure the highest level of patient care.
To increase access to affordable healthcare in our state, we must also provide patients access to information that allows them to make the best decisions about their own health care. The Louisiana Health Care Consumers Right To Know Act will empower consumers with access to information about health care costs and quality.
I've already listed many priorities here, but I know that each of you have campaigned on many ideas of your own. I look forward to working with you to implement these, especially in the area of capital outlay reform - to make that process more transparent and accountable.
...Lastly, our New Louisiana must be a place where our kids can grow up in safe communities - far away from those who wish to do them harm.
As the father of three young children, I cannot overstate the importance of taking every effort to keep our kids safe from violent criminals and sexual predators.
I know some folks think its great that you can go online today and see where these monsters live, block by block - But I look forward to the day when you can go online and see that they all live in one place - In Angola - Far away from our kids.
In this session, we must increase the penalties for sexual predators that prey on our kids.
Today, if someone chooses to molest a child through the internet, they face a minimum of one year in prison.
One year for taking the innocence of a child. That is inexcusable and that must be changed. We must double and triple the sentences for those who harm our children - especially for those sex offenders that prey on our kids through the internet.
In this session, we are calling to increase the minimum sentence for computer-aided solicitation of a minor from one year to a five-year minimum when the victim is 13 or older, and to a ten-year minimum when the victim is 12 or younger.
And, once someone is convicted of a sex crime, we should require them to register as a sex offender for the duration of their life - not just 15 years - but their entire life. Victims have to live their entire lives with the memory of what happened to them; perpetrators should not face a lesser sentence.
We must also double the perimeter around our schools and parks to prevent convicted sex offenders from preying on our children yet again.
Let's send a message loud and clear: if you want to hurt a child, if you want to molest a kid or prey on children through the internet - you should not do it in Louisiana. Here, you will suffer the strictest of consequences - and not just for one year, or two years; but for the rest of your life.
This budget also provides $6.5 million for an additional 50 Louisiana State Police Officers and will increase patrol trooper strength to 657 across the state.
...Yet again, we have an ambitious agenda to tackle.
To take another bold step toward our New Louisiana we know we have to first and foremost dramatically transform our workforce development system. We have jobs - we have workers - we must make them sync up for the good of our economy and the good of our people.
We must work toward a New Louisiana where all Louisianians have access to a great education, affordable health care and safe communities that protect them from the criminals that prey on the weakest among us.
I know as we work together, just as we have before, that we will deliver more incredible victories for the people of our state - we will make Louisiana the best place in the world, and the most attractive place for businesses to invest, and for families to prosper.
...And most importantly...we'll make sure Louisiana is the best place for our sons and daughters to raise their own sons and daughters.
I thank you again for your hard work thus far and for the spirit we have here.
We are making history. And we are only getting started.
I've said it before and I will say it again...Louisiana's future can change - it must change. It will change.