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Notes from Louisiana Legislature

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BATON ROUGE, La. (KNOE 8 News/AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to create a $40 million incentive fund to direct dollars to high-demand programs that will fill the petrochemical, engineering and manufacturing jobs his administration has drawn to Louisiana crossed its first legislative hurdle Monday.

The bill (House Bill 1033) by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, would set up the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy Fund, called the WISE Fund. It would steer money to high-demand areas, like science, technology and research programs, at Louisiana's four-year universities and community and technical colleges.

Dollars for the fund would be allocated through the budget process, and Jindal proposes $40 million for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year.

The Jindal administration has attracted billions of dollars in new investment, much of it in the petrochemical industry, but administration and higher education leaders say Louisiana needs to better prepare workers for the jobs coming with those projects.

"This is a very targeted, mathematical approach to make sure we meet the workforce demand," Kleckley said.

The House Appropriations Committee backed the bill without objection Monday. It moves next to the full House for debate.

An eight-person council that includes higher education system leaders and the state economic development and labor secretaries would decide how to divvy up money across campuses, and the Board of Regents would make the final decision.

Each campus wouldn't be guaranteed a slice of the money.

To get the dollars, schools would have to work with private businesses and get a 20 percent funding match, which could include cash or donations of technology, construction materials, scholarships, endowed faculty or other items.

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