Guest Column by Sharon Hewitt, Candidate for Governor: LOGA Industry Report
Those bumper stickers could be reprinted today as our loved ones once again leave for better opportunities elsewhere. But this time, the state’s outmigration crisis is one of our own making.
The governor, attorney general, and certain private personal injury lawyers argue in court that we must sacrifice good-paying jobs for our citizens as the only way to protect our coast. Even though we have an entire executive agency, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with a budget in the tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of employees, which exists for this very purpose, the governor and the attorney general have teamed up and cut a deal to transfer all these state responsibilities to a team of anti-energy private plaintiff attorneys.
That changes when I’m governor.
It’s as simple as ensuring that oil and gas companies follow the laws passed by the legislature, and the state enforces them. On day 1, I will immediately instruct my Secretary of Natural Resources to pause all coastal litigation. I will not allow baseless litigation to be weaponized against the oil industry.
The legislature empowered DNR with authority and provided it with resources to investigate permit violations, enforce compliance, and attempt to identify unpermitted activity in the coastal zone. DNR can also collect fines and penalties from companies determined to have violated the terms of their permits. For over 40 years, DNR enforced the state’s laws and regulations governing the oil and gas industry. The department has issued hundreds, if not thousands, of citations for violations of those coastal laws and regulations.
We were recently appalled to learn that the current DNR Secretary testified under oath during a deposition that he farmed out the department’s responsibility to investigate permit violations to private trial lawyers working on a secret compensation arrangement.
So, what changed? When did ensuring that the environment is protected and taxpayers are made whole become insufficient for the state? What is the catalyst for this complete abdication of responsibility?
In 2016, when a new governor took office, following a campaign funded by trial lawyers, DNR decided that instead of issuing citations, it would join the lawsuits filed against oil and gas companies by some coastal parishes. The attorney general joined the lawsuits too. These suits demand billions of dollars from companies to pay for alleged violations of permits — permits that are issued, regulated, and enforced by DNR. These lawsuits hold producers to made-up standards fabricated to enrich the trial lawyers who put the current governor in office.
Even the attorney general should understand that ex-post-facto applications of laws like these violate the most basic principles of our legal system.
The time and money wasted on this distraction would have been better spent on constructive efforts to protect Louisiana communities from floods and restore our coast. Ironically, the energy industry is the number one private investor in Louisiana’s coastal restoration program. Thirty-five cents from every dollar in the coastal restoration budget comes from offshore-leasing revenues. The Grow Louisiana Coalition estimates that the oil and gas industry has contributed $435 million to coastal work since 2017. These funds have been used for projects such as strengthening levees and enhancing flood protection in our coastal communities. Our parishes benefit when we work with the oil and gas companies, not file frivolous lawsuits against them to help a handful of political donors.
Coastal communities benefit from operators’ philanthropic efforts as well. After all, their employees live in those communities. Oil and gas companies donated millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours in support of relief efforts following Hurricane Ida. Industry partners have converted decommissioned drilling platforms into artificial reefs, preserving fish habitats for generations. They support smoking cessation efforts, invest in local artists, and provide children with back-to-school supplies. Moreover, they develop our workforce by promoting STEM education and mentoring and training our students for high-demand, high-wage careers. If we work with the industry instead of against it, there will be great-paying jobs, keeping those skilled workers — our sons and daughters — in Louisiana.
"On day one, I will immediately instruct my Secretary of Natural Resources to pause all coastal litigation."
As a Senator and a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I have introduced and supported legislation that would end these lawsuits. I also fought efforts to implement the sham settlement between the state and Freeport-McMoRan while the attorney general, shockingly, signed off on this ridiculous money-grab settlement. My opposition to these frivolous lawsuits has been documented by several guest columns published by The Advocate and Houma Today,1 in addition to my legislative voting record. I have been working on this issue for so long that when the state first intervened in the coastal lawsuits in 2016, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) listed Louisiana as a mere "judicial hellhole." Since then, ATRA downgraded the state to an "everlasting hellhole" and cited the dubious coastal litigation and government cronyism as reasons for this dishonor.
This election is a make-or-break one for our state. Young people are leaving Louisiana in droves for better opportunities in Texas, Florida, and North Carolina. These states are growing because their leaders have found ways to work with businesses, not use them to reward their cronies.
With his cozy relationship with these opportunistic trial lawyers, the attorney general, if he becomes governor, will finish the march to killing our oil and gas industry and sending our high-paying jobs to Texas.
The war against our job creators ends, and a new era of growth and prosperity begins on January 8, 2024, when I’m sworn in as your next governor.
The choice could not be more straightforward.
1 "It’s Time for DNR to Do Its Job," The Advocate, 2016 "Lawsuits Won’t Save the Coast," The Advocate, 2017 "Letter: Let’s Look for Solutions, Not Lawsuits," Houma Today, 2018
BATON ROUGE, LA – Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt’s SB 204, known as the “Foster Promise Award” bill, passed the legislature and has been sent to Governor Edwards’ desk for final signature. Hewitt’s bill would eliminate barriers to Louisiana residents applying for the M.J. Foster Promise Award program. The MJ Foster Promise Program was set up in 2021 to increase Louisiana’s 58.5% workforce participation rate, which is 40th in the nation.
The program has experienced a few startup issues that have resulted in only $1.2M being awarded last year from a $10.5M appropriation. SB204 seeks to address those issues by making it easier for students to certify that they meet the income eligibility criteria. In addition, Foster Promise funding will be sent directly to the educational institutions, where a financial counselor can work directly with the students to package their federal and state aid.
“By investing in our working age adults through the Foster Promise Program, we are laying a strong foundation for building a robust workforce,” stated Hewitt. “I am thrilled to see the MJF program fulfilling its intended purpose, equipping OUR citizens with the necessary skills for thriving in high-wage, high-demand industries such as healthcare, construction, technology, manufacturing, and transportation. Investing in the people of Louisiana is money well spent.”
by: Lauren Barry and Newell Normand | WWL
Republican Louisiana State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a gubernatorial candidate, joined WWL’s Newell Normand for an exclusive interview about her campaign and plans for the state.
efore she was elected as a senator in 2016, Hewitt earned a mechanical engineering degree from Louisiana State University and became one of the first female executives in a major oil and gas company, according to her biography. Today, she serves as Senate Chair of Republican Legislative Delegation and is the current Chairwoman of the Senate and Government Affairs Committee.
As the state legislature winds down to the end of its current term, Hewitt said she is busy working to get bills passed, including moves to invest in deferred maintenance on college campuses, roads and bridges. She said that a vote to exceed the expenditure limit will make this investment possible.
Other legislation Hewitt has her eye on includes bills related to education, workforce, the economy, crime, better government.
“They really are in line with what I believe are campaign issues that everyday families care about,” she explained.
For example, Hewitt is working to have senators pass a bill aimed at improving math education. Previously, she participated in a successful effort to improve reading scores in the state.
“I’ve got a final bill that will be heard this week on the Senate floor that’s tackling these makeshift labs that are cranking out counterfeit prescription pills and killing so many of our young people,” she added. “And so that has enjoyed great bipartisan support, because we want to get these bad guys out of our neighborhoods.”
As governor, Hewitt said she would like to build on the work she’s already been doing as a senator.
“I mean, these are... these are kitchen table issues,” she said “People want their kids to get a good education. They want them to get a good job. They want them to be able to afford to live here in Louisiana. They want crime out of their neighborhoods and they want a government that works for the people.”
Hewitt lives with her husband of more than 30 years, Stan. They raised two sons, Chis and Brad, and are members of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Slidell.
By Minden Press-Herald - May 24, 2023
BATON ROUGE, LA – Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt’s SB163, known as the “Back to Basics in Math Bill”, advanced out of the House Education Committee. Hewitt’s bill will provide 4th through 8th grade math teachers with additional support in teaching mathematics by building on foundational math skills. Louisiana 4th graders currently rank 40th in the nation, according to NAEP, for math scores and 8th graders rank 44th. The bill aims to dramatically increase these rankings by going back to basic principles in teaching math.
“It is unacceptable as a parent and grandparent that our kids rank near the bottom in math” Hewitt said. “My bill is a common sense approach that goes back to the basics of teaching math, the same math that I learned growing up in the Lake Charles school system and used while earning my engineering degree from LSU.”
This proposed law is a critical step in ensuring that students in public schools receive high-quality math education. By improving the foundational numeracy skills of teachers, students will be better prepared for success in math and other subjects. This bill, along with Hewitt’s past legislation, continues to show why she is the “Louisiana Leader in Education.”
by: Shannon Heckt | BRProud
BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – As the fentanyl crisis in the state continues to grow, one of the many bills filed this legislative session looks to increase the penalties for people who are running makeshift labs in their homes and spreading the drug.
The bill increases the punishments for the first, second and third offenses of running a clandestine laboratory. Under the bill, the first offense is 10-40 years, 10 of those years are not allowed parole, probation or a suspension of sentence. It also makes the fine $50,000. The second offense is 30-40 years and a $500,000 fine. Third and subsequent offenses are 99 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
The labs could include basic things like blenders, pill presses, and other tools to cut fentanyl and be sold under a different name. Some of the doses are proving to be fatal or people are unaware fentanyl has been put into the drug they are buying.
“It takes very little equipment and they’re taking fentanyl and cutting it, you know, so that it only takes a little bit of fentanyl and any of these prescription drugs to be deadly,” Hewitt said.
These labs are becoming more common as the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office is seeing. Since January of 2022, there have been over 340 fentanyl-related deaths in the parish.
“All of that fentanyl that they were using was recut or reprocessed here in Baton Rouge. When we receive fentanyl as a community from source cities, most times it’s processed in these home labs,” said EBRSO Capt. Tanner Jenkins.
Hewitt said as she tours the state for her campaign, fentanyl is an issue that impacts people everywhere she goes. She hopes this move will be successful as they saw with increasing the penalties around heroin in the state.
“I will have literally at least one person either stand up publicly in that meeting or maybe speak to me privately afterwards with tears running down their cheeks because they lost a son or granddaughter or a nephew or a neighbor that they were close to to fentanyl overdoses,” Hewitt said.
Other bills moving through the session are taking aim at dealers and other penalties. This bill just has one more stop on the House floor before it’s sent to the governor’s desk.
BATON ROUGE, LA – The Louisiana Senate voted in favor of Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt’s SB 113, known as the “Fortified Roof” bill. The legislation is aimed at lowering insurance costs for Louisiana.
The “Fortified Roof” Bill requires insurers to provide discounts and other adjustments to reduce insurance premiums. These lower insurance rates shall be offered to homeowners who build or retrofit their roofing structures to comply with the State Uniform Construction Code or the fortified home or commercial standards created by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. The reduced insurance premiums shall be actuarially justified.
“Homeowners and business owners in Louisiana are tired of seeing their property insurance rates increase. In some cases, private insurance is not even obtainable,” Hewitt said. “This is common sense and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting Louisiana homeowners and their families.”
Rates will continue to increase if insurance providers keep leaving the state. This bill will not only reduce rate premiums for homeowners and business owners, but will incentivize insurance companies to do business in Louisiana by reducing the risk of catastrophic damages due to roofing issues during major weather events.
BATON ROUGE, LA -The Louisiana Senate passed SB 49, known as the “Clandestine Labs” bill.
Senate Majority Leader Sharon Hewitt’s bill sets higher penalties for those convicted of creating or operating a clandestine lab for the unlawful manufacturing of fentanyl, carfentanil, or a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of fentanyl, carfentanil, or its analogues.
“These criminals who are operating illegal labs to produce deadly drugs are responsible for the deaths of our youth and for putting our brave law enforcement officers and first responders at risk,” declared Hewitt. “We cannot stand idly by and watch as our communities are destroyed by this epidemic. This legislation is a stern warning to those who engage in the manufacture of counterfeit pills containing fentanyl or carfentanil: we will not tolerate your actions, and you will be punished to the full extent of the law.”
Increased penalties for those convicted will increase from five to fifteen years in prison with up to a $25,000 fine to the following:
First-time offenders will face imprisonment at hard labor for 10 years to 40 years, of which at least 10 years will be without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Additionally, the offender may be fined up to $50,000.
Second-time offenders will face imprisonment at hard labor for 30 years to 40 years, of which at least 10 years will be without the possibility of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. Additionally, the offender may be fined up to $500,000.
Third-time offenders will be imprisoned for life, or 99 years, to be served without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence, and may be fined up to $500,000.
By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) — The Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs has approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican candidate for governor, to establish rules for virtual public meetings.
Senate Bill 201 "basically provides a comprehensive framework that establishes the requirements for public entities to meet remotely via electronic means outside of a gubernatorial declared disaster or state of emergency," Hewitt told the committee, which she chairs.
The Slidell Republican explained video conferencing during the pandemic revealed many benefits of remote meetings, including increased government transparency, increased participation and reduced travel costs, and opportunities for disabled citizens to take part, either as a citizen or board member.
A legislative task force for remote operations held numerous public hearings over the last year to develop rules and regulations to leverage those advantages while ensuring in-person meetings for local boards and those making decisions involving significant spending or public impact, she said.
That work culminated with Senate Bill 201, which requires local public bodies to always meet in person, while allowing boards that are "beyond a regional scope" to hold a third of meetings remotely. The legislation would prohibit back-to-back remote meetings.
The bill includes some exceptions requiring in-person meetings for certain statewide boards with far-reaching spending and policy powers, including the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Board of Regents, Board of Ethics, the State Civil Service Commission, the board for Louisiana Citizens insurance, the Board of Commerce and Industry, and the Board of Supervisors for state universities.
SB201 also provides an exception for statewide bodies dealing with disability issues to always meet remotely, and stipulates disabled citizens "shall be given an opportunity to participate in a meeting via electronic means at both the local and statewide meetings," either as a board member or citizen, Hewitt said.
"It will be up to the public bodies to adopt rules around how they’re going to do that," she said.
Other provisions of the bill spell out rules boards must follow for remote meetings. They include offering an anchor location for the public to attend in person, rules for public participation, required recording and archiving of meetings, making meeting materials available online in real time, meeting notification requirements, and required roll call votes.
The bill also stipulates that remote meetings that experience technical difficulties must be halted and can be recessed for up to two hours to fix the issue, then adjured and rescheduled if the problem is not resolved.
SB201 further tasks the Louisiana Legislative Auditor with reviewing implementation of the legislation to recommend improvements.
Numerous disability rights advocates testified or submitted cards in support of the bill, which was also backed by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
"This is a sea change or at least the start of a sea change in how we do public meetings," PAR President Steven Procopio said.
Procopio noted that the intent behind the bill is to avoid a patchwork of different virtual meeting rules for hundreds of different commissions and boards.
"I really appreciate trying to get everything under one roof," he said.
Procopio explained that citizens became more engaged through virtual meetings during the pandemic, and SB201 will ensure that continues.
"Under COVID, citizens got used to a lot more access to their public meetings, they were able to see things online and participate," he said. "I think once they got involved, they don’t want to lose that."
There was no opposition to the bill, which now moves to the Senate floor.
The drug is responsible for a growing number of overdose deaths, about 93% in St. Tammany Parish.
ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — A Northshore state lawmaker is seeking up to life in prison for criminals convicted of manufacturing fentanyl.
The drug is responsible for a growing number of overdose deaths, about 93% in St. Tammany Parish.
Last month, 8 people in the parish died in just 12 days after taking the drug.
Last year, 140 people died in St. Tammany from fentanyl poisoning.
This year, the parish is on pace to double that number.
“Doing the math, 2 to 3 a week at least,” St. Tammany Coroner Dr. Charles Preston said. “It seems like every overdose death certificate I’m signing now has fentanyl on it.”
"We’re seeing fentanyl-laced in just about everything, marijuana, all types of different pills from Adderall, Xanax, Percocet,” St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office Major Danny Culpepper said. What we’re also seeing is the amount. The smallest amount can kill.”
Tuesday – Senator Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who is also running for governor, announced she has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that seeks to crack down on the illegal manufacturing of the deadly drug.
“I believe this legislation is going to send a message to those criminals that we don’t want your labs in Louisiana,” Hewitt said. “It’s time to pack up and get out of our neighborhoods.”
Right now, manufacturing a controlled dangerous substance in Louisiana can result in a 5-to-15-year prison sentence.
Under Hewitt’s bill, if you’re caught cooking up fentanyl or combining it with other drugs, you could face a minimum of 10 and up to 40 years in prison.
A second conviction could get you no less than 30 and up to 40 years. Three strikes and you’re out. A third conviction carries a mandatory 99-year jail sentence.
“As far as I’m concerned, I would like it to be two strikes and you’re out when it comes to fentanyl,” St. Tammany District Attorney Warren Montgomery said. “Hopefully we can drive down the supply of fentanyl and save lives.”
The new penalties for fentanyl would also include up to $500,000 in fines.
Senator Hewitt’s bill goes after the drug manufacturer, but she says she is co-authoring another piece of legislation with Rep. Debbie Villio, R-Kenner, that proposes similar strict penalties against people who deal fentanyl.
The bill is expected to be discussed during the upcoming legislative session which starts next month. It can be read here.
LAKE CHARLES—Three of seven candidates running for the office of governor spoke Thursday morning to Louisiana School Board Association members about their views on public education. A fourth candidate appeared via video (Landry). The candidates — state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, Attorney General Jeff Landry, attorney Hunter Lundy and state Rep. Richard Nelson — appeared during the association’s annual convention, held this year at Golden Nugget Casino Resort.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you running?’ Well, our two sons went to out-of-state colleges, they’re working for companies out of state and they will probably never move back to Louisiana because there weren’t opportunities here for them,” Hewitt said. “What I want is a Louisiana where our families want to work here, and live here and retire here. Our sons were born and raised here and it breaks my heart that there aren’t opportunities here for them in Louisiana. As governor, I’m going to change that.”
The Lake Charles native and Barbe High School graduate said she has five areas she wants to focus on if elected governor — creating a world-class education system rich in technology to build “the workforce of tomorrow”; growing the economy with strong infrastructure and a tax system that “respects your hard-earned tax dollars”; affordable and reliable insurance and energy; safer neighborhoods and communities; and protecting personal freedoms. Hewitt said Senate Bill 222, which she sponsored, passed two years ago and goes into effect next year.
“This bill establishes for the first time in state history a uniform way of reporting how well students are reading,” she said. “We’re going to be checking that three times a year and there will be processes in place and opportunities for parents to know how well their children are reading. We are also teaching students who are studying higher education in higher education institutions the science of reading so they are ready to hit the ground running when they come into your school systems. These are all things are actually happening.” Hewitt said by the end of her first term as governor, all kindergarten through third grade students will be reading.
She also vowed to bring computer science courses to every grade level to get Louisiana students ready for the global economy. “Louisiana students are getting left behind,” she said. “Louisiana is 49th in the percentage of high schools offering a computer science class. To show you how much of an opportunity we are missing, last year in Louisiana we had 5,441 job openings per month in the computer field, and we only had 568 graduates in computer science. We have tremendous opportunities and yet we’re not filling the pipeline.” Hewitt also said she supports education savings accounts. “I am an advocate for public schools; I’m a product of public schools, my kids are, my mom was a teacher. That’s always where my priority is going to be,” she said. “But for those children that do not succeed in a public school environment, I do believe we should give them options. It’s important to give parents choices, and parents options.”