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Local officials attend ‘Cenla Day at the Legislature’

State legislators meet with local officials on issues that affect Cenla
Published: May. 5, 2021 at 11:29 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (KALB) - The state legislative session, primarily addressing fiscal concerns, started on April 12, and Wednesday, May 5 was a day for local officials to catch up on proposals being made and how they impact Central Louisiana.

Infrastructure has been one of the main points of emphasis during the legislative session. With $3.2 billion of federal stimulus money coming to the state, Gov. John Bel Edwards has repeatedly emphasized the importance of passing a budget that will focus on funding bills that will have a state-wide impact, including sewage, roadways and broadband.

Lance Harris, when speaking to the officials, said this is the one and best opportunity for infrastructure improvements because of the money coming in.

Broadband expansion has garnered significant support from Cenla leaders. Leading the effort is District 28 State Representative Darryl Deshotel, who is pushing the Broadband Grant Program through the legislature. Louisiana is already set to receive an influx of $180 million as part of the federally-funded American Rescue Plan to provide broadband to rural areas and those unserved communities. Deshotel also noted the potential for the investment of $100 billion in broadband expansion nationwide through the federal infrastructure package.

“If that happens, I foresee fiber to the home throughout the state,” said Deshotel.

District 13 State Representative Jack McFarland spoke on two proposals that will be used for improving road conditions and bridges. The Motor Vehicle Sales Tax currently goes to the General Fund, but if HB511 and HB582 go through, those funds will be reallocated to the Construction Subfund of the Transportation Trust Fund, providing millions of dollars for road repairs.

The recent ice storm and two major hurricanes highlighted water and sewage system failures in Alexandria, disasters that had a drastic impact on the local health system.

“We feel good about some things,” said Jason Cobb, CEO of Rapides Regional Medical Center. “We got some support around vaccination programs. We had a meeting with the governor, and he talked to both hospital systems, Christus and Rapides Regional, about how to take the vaccination program to another level with our community help.”

“The time is now,” said Monte Wilson, president of Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital. “You have to have a very strong infrastructure if you’re going to be able to build and make things happen and get people back to work you got to have a strong infrastructure for them to be able to do that.”

On the education front, District 26 State Representative Ed Larvadain emphasized education as a means to tackling poverty, COVID-19 further widening the learning gap, as many students have fallen behind outside of the classroom. Gov. Edwards spoke with Cenla officials about where the legislature stands on funding changes to the state’s current education landscape with mandatory kindergarten.

“I know that the request for early childhood will be for $6 million more,” said Gov. Edwards. “We’re going to support that in the legislature to put that in the local incentive program so that we can leverage those dollars for local dollars and create more seats in high-quality early childhood education. We are this close to having all 4-year-olds whose parents want them in early childhood, and then we’re going to start working on the 3-year-olds.”

Legislators also talked about a number of programs for Cenla colleges and universities, including LSUA’s student success center and new opportunities in partnership with England Airpark, LSUA and CLTCC.

“Workforce development, bottom line,” said LSUA Chancellor Dr. Paul Correll. “That’s what we’re supposed to be doing in higher-ed.”

School-based education is not the only focus for legislators, though, as they hope to focus on educating the public and simplifying the language of the Centralized Sales Tax Collection System bill in pushing it out to the public.

Lance Harris says “this is our best shot” at passing tax reform in more than 10 years. However, there is still the issue of distrust among voters, so making it more appealing to them is vital to the bill’s survival when it goes to the polls. Louisiana is currently one of only three states without this system. The system has the potential to bring more than $400 million back into the state.

In recent weeks, the metropolitan status of cities like Alexandria has been brought into consideration, making the issues discussed in this session all the more important. Gov. Edwards said that this will be a topic he plans to address with President Joe Biden on Thursday to make sure cities like Alexandria aren’t affected.

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