How a new state law plans to link local jobs to coastal projects.

Beginning Aug. 1, contractors overseeing major developments along the coast and closer inshore will be required to take steps to bring local workers onto their job sites. It’s not a blanket mandate, but if the projects are being funded by certain state or federal monies, contractors will be required to make the effort.

The Louisiana First Hiring Act will also connect local residents to projects that are being built in the same regions where they live. Authored by Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, the act will specifically target projects that are funded through the following means:

• The federal Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economy Act, known more commonly as the RESTORE Act. New research from Mather Economics released in early June indicates that the federal RESTORE Act could create as many as 58,000 jobs nationwide, including many coastal restoration and protection jobs in Louisiana, making the timing of Leger’s law spot on.

• Settlements or fines related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Under the federal Clean Water Act, it’s expected that BP will be fined $1,000 to $4,000 for each gallon of oil it spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. State officials are already taking steps to create a framework for how this money will be assigned.

• The state’s Master Plan for Integrated Coastal Protection, which was recently passed into law with more than $50 billion worth of projects.

Leger says his law will protect jobs for Bayou State residents by leveraging the influx of these monies and projects. “This legislation will strengthen our communities by making sure federal disaster dollars that come to Louisiana are spent here, creating real jobs across the entire state,” he says.

Contractor groups originally voiced some concerns about the program, but Leger built in a number of exemptions for projects where there is an “imminent threat to life or property” or where a state of emergency has been declared by the governor. The chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board is also allowed to grant exemptions for contractors if the new law creates an “unreasonable hardship.”

Scott Kirkpatrick, president of the Coast Builders Coalition, says the Louisiana First Act is in a position to help coastal residents have access to higher-than-average wages and will create opportunities for economic mobility in high-growth industries and occupations. “Business owners are invested in the health of our communities and are eager to use local workforce where practical,” Kirkpatrick says.

The new state law will require contractors to submit paperwork to the Workforce Commission within 10 days of being awarded a coastal contract. Within 10 days of receiving this information, the Workforce Commission will then provide the contractor with a list of people who are eligible for employment. Under the law, an eligible person is defined as a “resident of a parish within the coastal zone,” which was recently redefined to include more areas of the state.

Minor Sinclair, U.S. regional director of Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, is describing the new state law as an “innovative approach.”

While the coming years will be the true test for the Louisiana First Hiring Act, there are already signs that it could help commercial fishermen supplement their income. It’s also a program that could help improve the overall employment picture, and benefit others along the coast, just as long as contractors stick to the plan and don’t lean too heavily on the exemptions.

Jeremy Alford, a freelance journalist based in Baton Rouge, covers state politics for ABiz.

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