By Allan Katz and Danae Columbus in the Uptown Messenger
We like politicians who have a plan for New Orleans’s future. State Representative and House Speaker Pro Temp Walt Leger III definitely fits the bill. Though expected to easily win re-election for a third term at the Louisiana Legislature, Leger delivered thought-provoking remarks at his well-attended Audubon Tea Room fundraiser earlier this week that quickly set the tone for his political future, perhaps as a candidate for mayor in 2017.
Walt’s unique path to success has been carved out by generations of Legers. The family’s legacy of service was built on the Mississippi by his great-grandfather who was a ship captain, his river pilot grandfather, and his father Walt Jr., a highly successful corporate and maritime attorney.
Leger already espouses many of the traits we would want in our city’s future leader. He’s a proactive legislator, tough on crime, an advocate for children and families, fights for fairness and promotes juvenile justice, improved education and healthcare. Leger has received numerous awards from good government groups.
By establishing the Third Coast Political Action Committee, Leger is primed to maximize fundraising opportunities. A host of city’s high-profile political donors representing tourism, the legal community, labor and business turned out for the event. Among those spotted were Nancy Marsiglia, Bill Hines, Joe Bruno, Joe Jaeger, Ralph and Susan Brennan, Steve Pettus, Gary Solomon Jr., Steve Perry, Tiger Hammond, Blake Jones, Dan Forman, Nyka Scott, Norma Jane Sabiston, Adrian Bruno, Felicia Kahn, Mac Bauer and Dwight Barnes. Also present were elected officials Jared Brossett, Judge Chris Bruno and fellow legislators Helena Moreno and J.P. Morrell.
Leger had been talked about as a candidate for Attorney General before deciding to seek re-election. He will be one of dozens making their way to qualifying next Tuesday through Thursday either in Arthur Morrell’s office or at the Secretary of State in Baton Rouge. It will be a fun-filled three days with lots of excitement and surprises.
Read the full article in the Uptown Messenger here.
Rep. Leger was honored as a Whole Child Champion by the Childhood & Family Learning Foundation. According to NOLA.com, several people as well as schools were recognized for their contributions in support of the Whole Child, Whole School, Whole Community program recently adopted by the 2015 state legislature.
Read the full NOLA.com article here.
With the threat of $600 million budget cuts to higher education in Louisiana, the Student Government of Louisiana State University organized an initiative to evaluate the performance of state legislators annually. Walt made "Honor Roll" with a 100% score.
View the report card here: http://lsuherc.weebly.com/
Statement by Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger III on Governor Bobby Jindal's Executive Order on Religious Freedom
“On its face, Governor Jindal’s executive order is overreaching and more than likely unenforceable. It is deeply disappointing that he has taken this extreme action to resurrect the so-called religious freedom bill, which the majority republican House Civil Law committee decided to kill by a 10-2 vote.
Gov. Jindal’s executive order is just as unnecessary as the original legislation. Louisiana already has the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, which prohibits government intrusion into a person’s exercise of religion. Additional federal protections exist to secure this incredible, important freedom.
We have real issues to face in Louisiana. Instead of focusing on funding healthcare and education, the Governor has decided to play politics and waste valuable resources that should be focused on fixing the state’s budget- a crisis that this type of political posturing got us into in the first place.
This type of harmful legislation is nothing more than bigotry enshrouded in religion. It does not reflect Louisiana’s values, and it is damaging to our state’s image and economy. I think I speak for the vast majority of Louisianians when I say January cannot come soon enough. It is truly time to turn the page of history towards a more inclusive and prosperous future."
Read Leger’s Op-Ed, "Religious Freedom is Essential, but Shouldn't Be Used for Discrimination," here: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/religious_freedom_law_louisian.html
According to the Economist, the “Effects of 'religious freedom' outrage could be long-lasting.” The article states that while the political outrage over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act will inevitably fade, Indiana and its capital city will face "long-lasting" economic repercussions from the divisive law, which has stoked widespread fears of discrimination. I decided to take a stand against this type of harmful legislation. Read my Op-Ed below, or learn more about how so called "religious freedom" discrimination is bad for business by clicking here.
American Founding Father John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." I hold these words deeply in my heart as an elected official. But what I see happening today in Louisiana with the proposed Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act is a perversion of the laws that have been established to reflect the beliefs of a moral and religious people.
Moral and religious people do not discriminate. While overly broad and intentionally ambiguous, this so-called religious freedom bill provides protections for individuals who cite their personal religious beliefs to discriminate against people. It is bigotry enshrouded in religion. This is not what the proponents would have you believe, though. They claim the bill is meant to "safeguard religious freedom" and protect individuals from "adverse treatment by the state" in retaliation for actions stemming out of their personal beliefs. Federal and state laws already exist to protect religious liberty.
I strongly believe in the freedom of religion. I myself am guided by a deep faith, and I am all the more appalled at the length to which some people will go to ignore the lessons of love and acceptance that Jesus lived and died for and twist them into an excuse to discriminate. To use a religion founded upon the premise of "love thy neighbor" to promote intolerance is deplorable.
Moral and religious principles aside, the proposed law threatens our nation's core tenets of freedom and equality. We should not and cannot cite religious freedom to allow businesses to deny service to people based on their skin color, religion or gender. So why would we allow discrimination based on sexual orientation? Would we have stores place "Heterosexuals Only" signs in their windows where "Whites Only" signs once hung?
Preventing a business from discriminating does not hinder the freedom of the business owner to hold his sincere religious beliefs in his heart and in his home. A business operating in the public sphere, relying on public infrastructure, is not at liberty to pick and choose who it will allow to be its customers. Either it is open for business or not.
More broadly, this type of legislation sends a clear message to people outside of Louisiana, and it is not a message of which we should be proud. When Indiana passed similar legislation, there was a national public outcry against it. Major conventions, sporting events and national businesses have threatened to pull out of that state because of the discriminatory law. Bond rating agencies like Moody's have shown concern for the economic stability of the state of Indiana. Indiana's tourism industry is scrambling to recover from the state's battered image. As a state that relies heavily on a thriving tourism industry, Louisiana cannot afford to lose visitors who spend some $10.8 billion annually. We need to send a message to the world that Louisiana is welcoming. To everyone.
It is particularly frustrating that a bill like this, one that can only be described as a bill "in search of a problem to solve," would be filed at a time when our state has so many real challenges. To say that we have a budget crisis is an understatement. Our higher education system is on the verge of collapse. Our healthcare system is being stretched to its limits. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our people need good, high-paying jobs. We have many important issues to work on and do not need to spend our time conjuring up evil apparitions from the Deep South's dark past.
Those who know my record know that I have supported numerous pieces of anti-discrimination legislation. Unfortunately, those bills do not receive this level of attention, and they rarely even make it to the floor of the Legislature. This bill is a waste of time and ink. If it is not meant to discriminate, then language should be added that explicitly bars discrimination against people on the basis of many categories, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Nonetheless, I urge municipalities across Louisiana to introduce ordinances that would prohibit discrimination under the proposed law, language that would mirror the corporate policies of the majority of Fortune 500 companies today.
Religious liberty by right should and ought to be protected, and it is. With our freedom secure, we must ensure that Louisiana lives up to the ideals of a life lived free of government sanctioned discrimination.
Walter "Walt" J. Leger III of New Orleans represents District 91 and is speaker pro tempore in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Remaining BP Settlement for Economic Damages Should Fund Higher Ed
BATON ROUGE (March 27, 2015) — Earlier this week, the Board of Regents supported a proposal sponsored by State Representative Walt Leger III, Speaker Pro Tempore of the Louisiana House of Representatives, that would use some BP settlement monies for economic damages to establish a trust fund for higher education. However, State Treasurer John Kennedy has come out against the bill, stating all the funds should be used only towards rebuilding the coast. Kennedy went on to say “Once we get that money, we don't need to waste it. We do not need to waste it.”*
Firstly, investing in higher education, a pillar of our state’s future, is not a waste. The bill proposed by Leger would provide a stable stream of funding for colleges and universities that would carry on in perpetuity.
Secondly, what Mr. Kennedy knows, or should know, is that there are numerous pots of money from the BP settlement, and these are not BP "recovery dollars.” There are coastal damages, and there are economic damages.
Currently, the first billion dollars of economic damages will be dedicated to the Trust Fund for the Elderly and the Budget Stabilization Fund (also called the Rainy Day Fund). The question Leger asks is, “what will happen with the rest?”
Leger’s bill will protect the remaining dollars by investing them in a trust that will fund higher education off of the interest. Otherwise, the billions of dollars will go into the General Fund to be rapidly carved up by "politicians in Baton Rouge.” (In his criticism of Leger’s bill, Kennedy said "Politicians in Baton Rouge need to keep their hands off of it [the BP settlement].)
“The interest from these funds need to be preserved for the stability and affordability of our higher education systems in Louisiana. This would be the responsible investment in our students and Louisiana's economic growth,” said Leger.
Coastal damages will be used to restore Louisiana’s coast. Dollars from the civil penalties and fines associated with violations of the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act will be distributed through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process and under the terms of the RESTORE Act to benefit coastal activities and restoration projects. Further, additional dollars will be awarded to local governments to assist with restoration and ensure resiliency along the coast.
“I agree with Mr. Kennedy- the coast is a priority. That’s why as co-chair of the Coastal Caucus, I co-authored and shepherded through the Coastal Master Plan, co-sponsored legislation that dedicates Clean Water Act fines associated with BP to coastal projects, and sponsored and passed the annual Coastal Plan. And just recently, I called on the Governor to keep his hands off the Coastal Trust when trying to balance the state’s budget,” said Leger. “But in addition to being an environmental disaster on our coast, the BP spill was an economic disaster across the state — from Houma to Shreveport, from Lake Charles to Pearl River, and from Venice to Monroe.”
Leger continued, “Given projected state budget cuts, every little bit that can fill the large hole should go toward higher education and easing the burden on our students. My proposal creates a steady, sustainable stream of funding protected from politics.”
Leger is well known for his ardent support for coastal restoration and protection, as noted by environmental groups.
“The America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) has objected to any action that would take away or redistribute funds intended for coastal restoration but we understand the money in question is not currently directed to the coast,” Val Marmillion, AWF managing director, said. “The discussion around this issue points out that oil spill related funding and expenditures can be confusing and it’s important for the public to understand both the sources of funding and the opportunities and obligations that come with it. Representative Leger has been a key advocate for restoring our coast and we do not believe his proposal for directing these dollars takes money away from the coast or is inconsistent with his previous efforts to support restoring America's Wetland.”
State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, another ardent passenger rail supporter, says even with the huge budget deficits facing the state, money can be found to further the effort.
President Barack Obama's 2016 budget and more recently Gov. Bobby Jindal's midyear budget reductions include plans to swipe funds dedicated to protecting and restoring Louisiana's coast. Any move to reduce money dedicated to our coast is shortsighted and detrimental to the well-being of our state and our nation.
While it is true that the governor's proposed $1.2 million reduction does not directly impact coastal restoration projects, it is the wrong plan nonetheless. As a community, we must stand united and send a clear message to Washington and Baton Rouge that saving our coast is a top priority.
Like poison coursing through our veins, saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico flows inland through a web of navigation canals killing our coast. The conversation about Louisiana's disappearing wetlands began more than 40 years ago, but the political will was not there. Many thought the cost of repairing the coast was too high. It is exponentially higher now, and we continue to lose land at the alarming rate of a football field every hour.
Over time, a groundswell of support for saving our coast has emerged. A recent poll conducted by the America's Wetland Foundation shows that 74 percent of Louisiana voters representing both political parties say, "Saving Louisiana's coast is the most important issue of my lifetime."
The people of Louisiana demonstrated their commitment to the coast in 2006 when they ratified a constitutional amendment to dedicate offshore oil royalties to coastal restoration and protection projects. Armed with our commitment, then U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu fought for and passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which provides Louisiana and other coastal states 37.5 percent of royalties on new drilling starting in 2017, instead of the minuscule amount that we have been receiving.
With this long-awaited, dedicated stream of funding finally in sight, President Obama has moved to scrap it, citing that offshore waters belong to all Americans and that the money should benefit the entire nation. The president is correct, but his plan is wrong. Indeed, the money should be used to benefit the entire nation, but by shoring up Louisiana's coast rather than allowing it to disappear. Our state and her people have borne the burden of fueling our nation for generations, and it is long past time Louisiana receives her fair share. States with drilling on federal lands onshore receive 50 percent of those revenues. Gulf states should not be treated differently.
At this critical time when the promise of revenue sharing is being threatened, we must, more than ever, stand united in our commitment to the coast. That includes protecting the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund and not reducing it by a single penny. Gov. Jindal and my colleagues in the Legislature must guard the fund during what will surely be a difficult budget process. If we waiver, we will be demonstrating to the federal government that coastal protection and restoration is not a priority. It is. In addition to harming the cause, reducing the fund might create a slippery slope that could doom our coast forever.
We need our due share of offshore revenue and money from the trust fund to implement the state's $50 billion, 50-year master plan to protect and restore our coast. Raiding these funds would be robbing us of our future.
Show your commitment to the coast; visit thirdcoastleadership.com to add your name to a growing list of supporters and tell lawmakers in Baton Rouge and D.C. that our coast is a priority.
Walter "Walt" J. Leger III of New Orleans represents District 91 in the Louisiana House of Representatives and is speaker pro tempore.
Published on February 28, 2015 by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
Louisianans are proud of our heritage and traditions.
Unfortunately we are more recognized for cultural excellence — food, music, and sports — than for performance in the classroom. In reading and math, we rank among the bottom five states. Our college graduation rates are among the lowest in the country, and high-paying Louisiana jobs often go unfilled by our graduates.
In response, in 1999, under Gov. Mike Foster, we created the LEAP and iLEAP tests, measuring how well schools teach college and workplace skills.
As a result of this "accountability" plan, achievement has improved. On the National Assessment of Education Progress, the typical Louisiana student today is mathematically ahead of the typical student 15 years ago by nearly three-quarters of a grade level. And the state's high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.
But still our academic achievement ranks among the bottom three states.
In 2009, Louisiana education officials asked how we could make so much improvement and still be so far behind. They found that many other states expected more of their students.
That year, Louisiana educators participated in creating the Common Core State Standards, to establish high expectations in reading, writing, and math skills that would be shared across state lines. For the first time, Louisiana could compete on a level playing field with other states.
In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature took this a step further, passing a law requiring that state tests measure students against the new standards.
In 2014, 50,000 Louisiana students tried out these new tests, called PARCC. Next month, 300,000 Louisiana students will take the same challenging tests as will 5 million students across America.
But the Louisiana accountability plan should not stop there. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has set a goal that by the year 2025 schools rated "A" will be those whose students master these nationally competitive standards. BESE should make two improvements to the plan to help students achieve that goal.
First, state rules require that every seven years there be a review of the state's academic standards. A review of the Common Core English and math standards is scheduled to start in 2016.
That is too far away. Using ACT results, high school graduation rates and college graduation figures, BESE can analyze how well the current standards are preparing students for college. BESE should convene a commission of Louisiana teachers to review English and math standards in light of these results, and do so on an ongoing basis. BESE should keep the standards that are equipping students for college and the workplace, and it should adjust those that are not working.
Second, the law requires BESE to administer annual tests, such as ACT and PARCC, which show how well we compete with states across the country.
BESE's contract with the company implementing the PARCC test in Louisiana expires this summer, but, rather than waiting, BESE should immediately launch a competitive bidding process, partnering with a company to provide the Louisiana test required by law.
A quality test will measure student performance against our state's high English and math standards. It also will show results that are comparable to those in other states.
Such a test could include PARCC questions, for which students and teachers have been preparing for five years. But it shouldn't be limited to PARCC questions, especially if there are other questions that measure high expectations and allow us to compete with other states.
What's more, Louisiana teachers should continue to review and provide input on test questions, and Louisiana parents should be able to review full sample tests each year. BESE should reduce the number of tests required in high school, just as it should provide parents of children in the earliest grades a better guideline for measuring whether students are on track.
For 16 years, across three governors and five legislatures, the Louisiana accountability plan has improved the lives of children in our state. We are at a pivotal time, and it is important that BESE make improvements. But, for our children, and for their children, BESE must continue the Louisiana plan.
Rep. Chris Broadwater (R), District 86, lives in Hammond. Sen. Eric LaFleur (D), District 28, lives in Ville Platte. Rep. Walt Leger (D), District 91, lives in New Orleans. Sen. Mike Walsworth (R), District 33, lives in West Monroe.
Walt has been appointed co-chair of the National Conference of State Legislators' (NCSL) Health & Human Services Committee. NCSL is a national bipartisan organization dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures. Walt will serve as co-chair of the committee for a two year term.