BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Gov. John Bel Edwards gave his final State of the State address as the regular legislative session began on Monday, April 10.
Edwards began his speech by remembering former Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, who passed this morning. Edwards said Ieyoub was a “genuine and kindhearted man.”
The governor then thanked everyone who he said helped move Louisiana forward during his two terms. Edwards thanked everyone from his wife and family to cabinet members.
Reflecting on the past he said, “It took a whole lot more gumbo and gumption than we expected, but we have met every challenge. From the record budget deficit we inherited to the floods of 2016, to the national reckoning over racial injustice and discriminatory policing. From multiple hurricanes, including the two strongest to ever hit our state, Laura and Ida, to tornados and a once a century pandemic.”
He then delved into what he said are priorities for this legislative session — raises for teachers, early childhood education, healthcare, workforce, economic development and infrastructure projects, climate change, increasing the minimum wage and ending the death penalty.
More money for teachers
“One of the most important things I’m going to ask of you this session is to give our teachers a
$3,000 pay raise as well as $1,500 for support workers,” said Edwards.
He said Louisiana is in a “fierce competition” to keep teachers working in the state.
Early childhood education
“As for early childhood education, I am proposing that we make the largest new investment of
state general fund in early childhood education in state history,” he said.
Edwards said the state is looking to create a partnership framework for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library so that children five years old and younger can get one free book a month.
“Now, more than 500,000 working Louisianans have access to healthcare who otherwise wouldn’t,” the governor said. “In 2015, 22.7% of working age adults in Louisiana did not have health insurance. As a result of Medicaid Expansion, in 2022, the uninsured rate among adults fell to 9.4%, below the national average of 10.2%.”
He urges Louisianans who are eligible for Medicaid to make sure their contact information is updated as the renewal process begins.
Economic development, infrastructure projects
“Since 2016, the state has participated in more than 340 economic development projects representing more than $106 billion in projected capital investment in Louisiana,” said Edwards. “That amounts to more than 70,000 direct and indirect jobs. Louisiana’s manufacturing jobs – the ‘gold standard’ indicator of economic health, ended 2022 at the highest level in seven years.”
He said his administration has allocated nearly $5.5 billion to more than 2,000 infrastructure projects in Louisiana. The state is set to get $1 billion in federal funds over five years in the Bridge Formula Program.
Protecting Louisiana’s coast & climate change
“But the work we are putting into restoring our coast will not be nearly as impactful if we ignore climate change. Like many of you, I grew up hunting and fishing,” he said. “I spent much of my time down in the Manchac Swamp. I’ve seen with my own eyes the changes that have happened over time – but none more alarming than what we’ve experienced the past few years. Storms are getting stronger and more frequent. I don’t think anyone in this room can deny that.”
Edwards said the Climate Initiatives Task Force to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 was created because of changes he’s seen in the state’s landscape.
Raising the minimum wage
“This will come as no shock to you since I’ve been fighting for it every year, but I am again calling for a minimum wage increase this session,” said Edwards. “It is embarrassing and frankly immoral that we have not raised our minimum wage – even more so now with inflation.”
He notes that over 20 other U.S. states have raised their minimum wage this year which is why he’s supporting a bill that would increase it.
“In the meantime, I will use my executive power to raise the minimum pay for state employees to
$10 an hour. That raise is reflected in my budget.”
Exceptions for victims of rape, incest
“I also know our pro-life position can include basic empathy for women who are victims of rape and incest,” said Edwards. “I simply do not know how we as a state can tell a young girl or any victim of rape or incest that she must be forced by law to carry her rapist’s baby to term, regardless of the impact on her own physical or mental health, the wishes of her parents, or the medical judgment of her physician. After all, rape and incest exceptions protect crime victims. I say this as someone with a very well documented pro-life record. I urge you to add rape and incest exceptions to our abortion ban. This is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Louisiana and people of deep faith everywhere.”
“I am asking that you look at the death penalty in Louisiana in 2023 with fresh eyes and an open mind,” he said. “In short: it is difficult to administer – one execution in 20 years. It is extremely expensive – tens of millions more spent prosecuting and defending capital cases, and tens of millions more spent maintaining death row over those same 20 years.”
Edwards said the state’s criminal justice system is “far from perfect,” and the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, isn’t necessary for public safety and is “inconsistent” with the state’s pro-life values.
In his final remarks, Edwards said, “Serving this state I so dearly love has been the honor of a lifetime. With all my heart, thank you, Louisiana. May God bless you all and may God bless the great state of Louisiana.”