BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal told lawmakers opening their annual legislative session Monday that Louisiana's biggest challenge was making sure it has enough workers to fill the jobs his administration has helped attract to the state.
Boosting job skills training for high school and college students and better matching them to the petrochemical and manufacturing jobs coming to Louisiana is the Republican governor's top goal for the 85-day session, which runs until June.
"Our first and most important priority must be to make sure that we have got the best trained, most skilled, most productive workers that you'll find anywhere in the world," he told a joint session of the House and Senate.
The centerpiece of the effort involves directing new money to science and technology programs at Louisiana's public colleges. The governor also wants to require skills training for high school students who don't plan to go to a four-year university, so they graduate with an industry-based certification in areas like welding or specialized skills for a chemical plant.
Jindal highlighted economic development wins in his speech, saying his administration has drawn new businesses and expansions totaling $50 billion in private investment. He told the stories of eight people who he said were returning home, staying put or moving to Louisiana because of the job recruitment of his administration.
In his 18-minute speech, the governor avoided the highest profile topic facing lawmakers this session, whether to scrap the state's use of more rigorous educational standards adopted by most states, called the Common Core. The issue divides Republicans, and Jindal has refused to say whether he supports a rollback of the standards or other modifications.
Beyond worker training, Jindal's agenda is limited, largely involving his support for ideas offered by individual legislators. He's asking lawmakers to shrink the authority of a state flood protection board that is suing the oil and gas industry, to toughen restrictions on abortion and to take stronger action against human trafficking.
"The overall agenda of the session is going to be driven by individual legislators," said Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma.
The smaller work list for Jindal isn't surprising.
The governor has fewer than two years remaining in his term and his eye on a possible 2016 presidential campaign. His relationship with lawmakers has grown more difficult in recent years, and a sweeping tax plan Jindal proposed last year fizzled without a vote taken. His legislative day started with a national editorial on the U.S. dispute with Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, and later Jindal was discussing American energy production on CNBC.