By Madeline Meyer, LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — Legislators are supporting efforts to help veterans start businesses and get hired in Louisiana. The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday advanced a proposal for the Veterans First Business Initiative.
The popular bill would be the first of its kind in the country.
The proposal, authored by Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, was co-sponsored by 71 other legislators. The House voted unanimously in late April to advance the bill.
Foil’s proposal now moves to the Senate floor.
Under the initiative, the Louisiana Economic Development — the state’s business development agency — would create a registry for veteran-owned businesses. These businesses would also be able to post a sign or marker to indicate that they are veteran-owned.
To qualify as veteran-owned, veterans must own 51% or more of the business and must not have been dishonorably discharged.
“If you are a returning veteran and you’re looking for employment,” Foil said, “you can find other veteran-owned businesses that are owned by people who have gone through similar experiences.”
About 284,000 veterans live in Louisiana, according to a 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat and former U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, spoke in support of the bill in the Senate committee. At a morning press event for the Central Louisiana Business and Economic Development, the governor reiterated his administration’s plans.
“This is going to help veterans make that transition from service to civilian life and give us another opportunity to say thank you,” Edwards said.
The governor and other state officials announced in February that all Louisiana colleges and universities would create veteran centers. The 30 resource centers will specifically support veterans in their campus and educational lives and also provide access to federal and state benefits.
Support for the bill is homegrown. Local business owners, such as Justin Ferguson, who is a veteran and owner of BRQ Restaurant in Baton Rouge, has endorsed the bill.
“Coming back from combat, it’s hard,” Ferguson said at the hearing. “You are trying to get connected and trying to find a place.”
In addition to creating job opportunities, supporters of the bill hope that military veterans would also form a network to help them overcome other challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Lawmakers also advanced proposals this session that would address PTSD in firefighters and police officers.
“This should be a great beginning,” said committee chairman Sen. Daniel Martiny, R-Metairie. “I think we ought to develop more programs and take into consideration the sacrifices that you people make for our country.”