The 2022 legislative session was a testament to the leadership and strength of Baton Rouge Area legislators to drive impact on the region’s priorities. As a result of our strong delegation, BRAC saw several big wins across its agenda, including on issues where BRAC has significantly advocated in the past. This session funded the new Mississippi River bridge, ensured college credits are universally transferrable across Louisiana institutions for the first time, secured and renewed a critical economic incentive, funded the LSU University Lakes project, further improved education policy, expanded access to small business innovation grants, and provided new funding for economic development.
After last year’s wins on tax reform and infrastructure, this year was transformative and impactful for economic development, education, workforce, and even more commitment to infrastructure. The most considerable victory from this session was the legislature’s $300 million allocation to the new Mississippi River Bridge. This has been a long-term goal for BRAC, and we are closer to seeing this project completed than ever before. The organization published its 2022 legislative priorities before the session started and are available at brac.org/legislative-priorities. An in-depth look at the progress
Continue to Address the Capital Region’s Transportation Crisis
BRAC’s strong advocacy for continued progress on a new Mississippi River bridge and commuter train service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans contributed to both projects receiving funding in the budget – $300 million for the bridge and $12.5 million for the passenger rail service.
A new Baton Rouge Area bridge is finally a near-term opportunity, due in part to last year’s vehicle sales tax law, dedicating sales taxes to transportation infrastructure mega projects, and this year’s $300 million budget allocation.
According to the current schedule, DOTD would select a final bridge location (from the three alternatives, all in Iberville Parish) and commence the design-build process within two years, sometime in 2024. This bridge funding was also boosted by the passage of SB 266 (Ward), allowing the vehicle sales tax revenue to be bonded out, and SB 277 (Cortez), which increased funding for the new bridge and mega projects across the state.
In the recent past, the state has lagged in its investment in transportation infrastructure, adversely impacting traffic congestion, quality of life, and insurance and fuel prices. With the federal government’s recent passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package and the state legislature allocating significant funding during the session, remarkable progress has been made toward alleviating the Capital Region’s traffic woes.
Additionally, SB 467 (Carter), a bill to advance the process of developing passenger rail between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, passed. This bill requires DOTD to develop a scope, schedule, and budget to secure all necessary approvals and permits to begin passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and authorizes DOTD to apply for federal funding for passenger rail and any necessary platforms and stations to support passenger service.
Renew the Quality Jobs Program & Protect Louisiana’s Economic Development Toolkit
Several years ago, the legislature enacted periodic sunsets for most economic development incentives. With programs set to expire without action this year, BRAC worked with partners and legislators to extend the Quality Jobs and Competitive Projects Payroll Incentive programs. Senator Mike Reese passed two bills SB 12 (Reese), Competitive Projects Payroll Incentive Program, and SB 41 (Reese), extension of the Quality Jobs Program.
The Quality Jobs incentive program is one of the most frequently used by BRAC and its allies, and one of the most valuable incentives in Louisiana for attracting new investments and high-quality jobs with good benefits. The Competitive Project Payroll Incentive is seldom used but can be a vital tool to attracting major projects. It was expected to be a fight over but the strong outpouring of statewide support helped to protect these programs for another four years.
Senator Pope offered SB 151, which aimed to memorialize the Governor’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) executive order in the state Constitution. BRAC, along with allies, vigorously opposed this legislation. While BRAC has been able to successfully use ITEP under the current rules and supports local input in the decision-making, the constitutional amendment is not currently necessary and the next gubernatorial election should include a discussion about the current executive order, as well as the broader need for tax reform. Recognizing the need for ITEP flexibility that this bill would have permanently removed, the business and economic development coalition came together to thwart this bill in the Senate.
Change the Way Economic Development is Funded
HB 724 (Bagley), set up an $8 million fund to develop certified sites across the state. The money will be divided up evenly among the eight economic development regions with $1 million for the Capital Region. This is a big first step toward a new phase of Louisiana’s development of major marketable sites. Louisiana lags behind other states in its site development efforts and this funding will be a first step toward increased competitiveness for large-scale projects. More work is needed for Louisiana to become a major player in this space, but investments like this have the potential to dramatically alter the landscape of economic development in Louisiana.
Make Higher Education Course Credits Universally Transferable
BRAC supported SB 261 (Fields) to improve students’ ability to more easily transfer their college credits between in-state institutions. The legislation requires statewide transfer agreements to guarantee the acceptance of all courses in all transfer pathways and requires transfer agreements to provide for the acceptance of credits earned through competency-based education and prior learning assessments. The legislation passed with no opposition throughout the process.
As K-12 school systems expand dual enrollment opportunities for high school students, this legislation will considerably benefit school students who graduate from high school with credits from 2-year colleges. As four-year institutions accept these course credits, more Louisiana students can begin their college careers already having earned a significant number of credits, saving time and money in route to earning their degrees.
Additionally, students are more likely to attend multiple colleges and universities and acquire knowledge outside of traditional educational settings, and the credit for this prior learning will also be universal across all institutions. In short, once credits are granted by any institution, all institutions will recognize this credit.
BRAC also supported HB 231 (Brass), which eases the ability to transfer credits from four-year to two-year institutions.
Improve Access to Computer Science Education
BRAC led a coalition of local and national partners from academia and industry to pass SB 190 by Senator Hewitt, to increase the implementation of computer science in grades K-12, including a state plan, state standards, teacher training, and integration into TOPS.
The legislation will create a Computer Science Advisory Commission, which will provide recommendations on:
- State K-12 content standards in computer science education,
- Computer science requirements for high school graduation, postsecondary entrance, and eligibility for TOPS,
- Standardized computer science teacher training,
- Technical assistance grants to public school systems for the creation and expansion of computer science courses, and
- Funding strategies for computer science teacher training and course expansion.
Currently, only 29% of public high schools offer computer science courses in Louisiana. Nationally, 51% of high schools offer computer science, while neighboring Arkansas is among the nation’s leaders, with 92% of public schools offering computer science.
The average open computing job in Louisiana pays $71,016, far more than the median income in the state. As the future of work moves increasingly toward tech-based competencies, the implementation of legislation will go a long way toward creating the next generation technologically and digitally savvy students who will become the next generation of software developers, coding specialists, and data scientists. From foundational industry sectors like petrochemical manufacturing to health systems to startups, a workforce with competent technology skills is critical to growth.
Another bill, SB 191 (Hewitt), passed to include coding as an option for a student’s TOPS language requirement.
University Lakes Project
HB 2 included $26 million, $6 million in Priority 1 and $20 in priority 5, for The University Lakes, an ambitious project that includes dredging and environmental restoration to the lakes system, which will add substantial recreational value and enhanced quality of place for the Baton Rouge area. The first phase of construction will focus on dredging five of the six lakes and will include an improved network of pedestrian and cyclist paths.
Funding for the Capital Region
Legislators allocated significant funding for Capital Region projects this year with the most notable being the $300 million allocation for the new Mississippi River Bridge. Colleges and universities in the region received funding for campus improvements and local governments received millions for road and drainage upgrades. The region received over $1.2 billion in total funding, over $222 million in Priority 1 and over $628 million in Priority 5. Some of the highlights include:
- $12.5 million in one-time funds for a supercomputer specifically focused on artificial intelligence applications, to be placed at the state’s shared computing center and available to all higher education institutions. The intended applications include storm surge modeling and maritime navigation, drug development, medical imaging diagnostics improvement, and precision agriculture.
- LSU received more than $110 million in funding as part of the largest state funding increase ever for Louisiana higher education. The funds include faculty pay raises, capital outlay for the construction of new projects, support for the Office of Inclusion, Civil Rights & Title IX, $2 million in planning funds for the LSU Library, and the funding for the Our Lady of the Lake Interdisciplinary Science Building. Other highlights include $5 million for a carbon capture and hydrogen fuel initiative; $2.5 million for the defense cybersecurity program; and $3 million for a National Cancer Institute designation effort.
- $188.9 million to Southern University for the Law School, STEM Complex, campus-wide land stabilization projects, and other projects.
- $35 million for Baton Rouge Community College’s Allied Health Facility.
- $1 million in renewed incentives to bring more direct flights to the Baton Rouge Airport.
Reduce the Number of Occupational Licenses
BRAC has long supported efforts to reform the overly burdensome occupational licensing system in the state of Louisiana. Two bills that will improve the licensing process are headed to the Governor’s desk. HB 639 (Pressly), which provides relative to occupational licensing for workers with criminal histories, and HB 1062 (Freeman), which allows for easier appeals processes for individuals seeking to obtain occupational licenses. These bills are a small step forward but represent much-needed reforms to the system.
Legislators made extensive improvements to education policy. In addition to computer science education expansion and university higher-education course transferability, BRAC supported several less heralded, but no less important, pieces of education legislation that passed.
- SB 47 (Fields) requires public schools to work to develop a mixed provider delivery model of prekindergarten instruction. One of the goals of BRAC’s new five-year strategic plan is the development of universal pre-K-3. This bill, which creates the mechanisms to expand early learning opportunities for three-year-olds, is a big win for early childhood education efforts.
- SB 145 (Talbot) permits charter schools with a corporate partner to have their approvals heard by BESE instead of local school boards. In 2021, the East Baton Rouge School Board rejected several charter operators, including Discovery Schools. This legislation would allow these organizations an alternate route to authorization. Unfortunately, this legislation was vetoed by the Governor.
Other BRAC supported instruments
- HB 796 (Willard), HB 786 (Willard), and HB 795 (Pressly) aim to help Louisiana be more competitive in pursuing the Federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs and help the state recruit out-of-state companies that have been awarded such funds. These programs encourage small businesses to explore their technological potential and provide the incentive to profit from its commercialization.
- SB 95 (Allain) creates the multi-parish audit program for local sales tax. This will reduce the burden on businesses operating in multiple parishes from having to undergo multiple audits from each parish.
- HB 69 (Devillier) allows a vehicle owner to incur a fine if there is photographic evidence of littering from the vehicle and a clear view of the vehicle’s license plate. There has been increased attention paid to litter and beautification efforts recently, with Governor Edwards and Mayor Broome each convening task forces to address these issues. This legislation creates another tool to combat the proliferation of litter.
- HB 374 (Beaullieu), which increases the fine for gross littering of tires and failure to obtain a generator identification number.