SULPHUR — Governor John Bel Edwards signed two bills here, at the Sulphur Police Department, Tuesday afternoon, before attending National Night Out at the West Cal Arena.
The bills were sponsored by State Rep. Stuart Moss and co-authored by Rep. Stephen Dwight and Sen. Ronnie Johns, among many others.
The first, the Angela Downs Act, deals with sales tax rebates on vehicles equipped with motorized lifts, ramps or other accessibility features. The bill had 16 co-sponsors.
The second bill amends the Jason Flatt Act, which requires state educators to receive two hours of youth suicide awareness and prevention training. The amendment strengthens the reporting requirements and content of the mandatory two hours annual teacher suicide prevention training, as well as requires that all high school and middle school ID badges contain number for suicide prevention hotline, as well as a number students can text.
"Both of these bills were necessary because they help people who need help," said Edwards. He commended Moss for introducing the issues as his first two pieces of legislation. He said many new legislators present bills that help people who don't need it because they are easier to pass.
Moss said he was pleased that five pieces of legislation he sponsored or co-authored passed during the last session. "These two were the world to me," he said.
According to Moss, the family of the late Angela Downs told him they purchased vehicles from Texas to take advantage of their tax rebates. Gov. Edwards said no Louisiana family should have to travel out of state for something that Louisiana should provide, particularly those in most need. The Downs family was in attendance for the signing. "This creates a little bit of economic flexibility for those mostly confined to their homes," said Moss.
The amendment to the Jason Flatt Act was brought to the attention local legislators by former Sam Houston High teacher Ken Brown, who along with colleague Sara Jolie, began PILOT, a suicide prevention program for SHHS students. Brown is also a field ambassador with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He was particularly affected by the loss of Channing Hedrick, a Sam Houston High student, and best friend to Brown's son, when he passed away from suicide in 2014, at the age of 14.
During AFSP Louisiana State Advocacy Day last year, PILOT students presented their suicide prevention efforts to Gov. Edwards. Sen. Johns helped sponsor a Senate Resolution asking the state's education department to survey schools on their compliance with the Jason Flatt Act. It was approved in both the House and Senate.
Brown presented the amendment to Rep. Dwight, who asked Moss to take the lead. The two cosponsored it, along with 46 representatives from both sides of the aisle. Channing was one of many teen suicides in the Moss Bluff area in recent years. "One suicide is too many," said Moss.
Brown, Jolie, members of SHHS PILOT, and Olivia Jones, Channing's mother, were on hand for the signing.
"I want you all to be as excited as I am about our state," said Gov. Edwards. "We have our challenges. But, unlike what you see in Washington too often, people in Baton Rouge…we still sit down and talk. We still try to figure out where we're going to agree and where we're going to have to disagree, and we try to work around that.
"There's not a delegation in the state that does that better than the representatives of Southwest Louisiana," he said. He noted that no other area in the state, or the country, is experiencing as much growth as Calcasieu Parish is now. "I know that it presents its challenges to not have the infrastructure capacity you would like," he said. "We're working really hard, but I'm not making any announcements today," he said.