Legislators hold workshop recently on important issues affecting state

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2000

L’Observateur / December 2, 2000

SPRINGFIELD – Senate President Pro-Tempore Louis Lambert (D- Prairieville) and District 19 State Sen. Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan) joinedfellow state senators this month at Tickfaw State Park for a two-day intensive examination of key problems facing Louisiana in education, health care, corrections and fiscal policy.

Twenty-eight senators, or over two-thirds of the Senate membership, were able to participate in the Senate “Focus Forum.”The forum was a kind of “crash course” for senators to educate themselves, in an informal yet focused environment, on issues they will face in the coming months at what will be the first general legislative session of this term. Senators, with the help of state, regional andnational experts, gathered information about what is happening in Louisiana and other states with such issues as teacher quality, school accountability, higher education access, prescription drug costs, nursing home and long-term care alternatives, state spending and cost cutting proposals and revenue issues.

For Lambert and Chaisson the “Focus Forum” was a great opportunity to gain new insight into the key state issues and policies that will be discussed at the up-coming regular legislative session next spring. The upcoming session will be the first general session of the statelegislature in two years, and the first of this term, where a wide range of issues can be considered.

“I found the exchange of ideas among the members and the experts particularly helpful,” Lambert said. “Over the two days we were ableto gather a lot of valuable information on a number of far-reaching issues that can serve as a foundation upon which we can build a plan to tackle the problems facing us in Louisiana.””I feel I was able to learn a lot,” Chaisson said. “In thestate legislature you tend to know a lot about the issues relating specifically to your district or to committees on which you serve. The’Focus Forum’ allowed all of us, veterans and new members alike, to be exposed to vital information outside our special areas of interest.”The Senate “Focus Forum” was not designed to consider legislation or to hold formal committee hearings like those that would occur at the State Capitol. Instead, it was an idea session and Senate President John Hainkel,who organized the forum, believes the effort was a success.

“We didn’t find any single magic solution to the problems facing us, but we did get many specific ideas as to how to deal with some of the issues. I truly believe that the information and insight gained during thefocus forum will help us make better decisions to better serve the citizens of the state,” Hainkel said.

The Senate “Focus Forum” was held during the first week of November at Tickfaw State Park. Regional and national officials participating in theidea exchange included policy experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

Observers from the National Conference of Legislatures were so impressed with the success and format of the forum that they plan to suggest to other state legislators around the country that they consider similar efforts in their states.

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