Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, July 03, 2012

White calls ruckus over voucher emails 'sensationalism'

In an interview with Daily Report this morning, Louisiana Department of Education Superintendent John White says there was nothing improper about a string of emails between him and members of Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff regarding how he planned to handle public discussion of the state's school voucher program. The emails were recently obtained and released by The (Monroe) News-Star, and have led some of Jindal's critics to call on the governor to investigate the matter. "It's almost hard to respond to because all we're talking about is me saying what we were going to do, and then we did it," White says. "If people want to make it out to be more than that, then it's just sensationalism." While The News-Star reports it received the emails via an extensive public records request, White says that's not true. "We don't know how the media got those emails, but they were not provided through an official records request," White says. When asked how he thinks they were obtained, White says, "I don't know. But I don't think that's a matter of great consequence." Ultimately, White says, the stories on the emails are overshadowing issues of greater importance as Louisiana begins to implement the voucher program statewide. "I think there's been very little focus on what matters most, which is the kids and their parents," White says. You can check out The News-Star's original article on the emails at issue here; and see a follow-up story from today's News-Star with reactions from Jindal critics here. Meanwhile, The Times-Picayune has a story on White's efforts to calm the outcry over the story here. —Steve Sanoski

Panera Bread scraps plan for Corporate location, looks to Jefferson

Despite extensive negotiations, the Panera Bread franchise that was slated for a Corporate Boulevard location next to MidSouth Bank has been nixed because of pre-existing development restrictions at Towne Center, says franchisee Tom Krings. "And the landlord wasn't aware of those restrictions, and he couldn't lease to us," Krings says. Whole Foods has a contractual exclusion that prevents a bakery from going into operation near Towne Center, Krings says, adding that Whole Foods was willing to make an exception for Panera Bread. However, the owners of the Towne Center never addressed the issue in legal documents, Krings says, which ultimately "just killed the deal." He says he's now working on opening a Panera Bread on a parcel on Jefferson Highway located just south of Calvin's Bocage Market. Krings has 19 Panera Bread franchises across Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina, and says he's opening a location in Metairie on July 17 and another in Covington on Aug. 26. His long-term goal is to establish about 15 franchise stores across south Louisiana. A planned Baton Rouge location was first reported in November 2010. —Adam Pearson

Zachary named among 10 best towns for families in America

Family Circle magazine has included Zachary on its new list of the 10 best towns for families in the United States. The magazine notes Zachary's relatively high median income ($65,749), low average home price ($180,000), low student/teacher ratio (21:1) and high overall schools rating (it gives it a 9 of 10) in placing it on the list. "The [school] district has been rated the best in Louisiana for the last seven years and was the only one to receive an 'A' rating from the state in 2011," says Family Circle, which also quoted Zachary residents Jennifer and Nick Carr in its coverage. "The schools were wonderful when I attended, but they're simply amazing now," says Jennifer, 39, a hairstylist. The Carrs tell the magazine Zachary's family-friendly atmosphere sets it apart. "Whether we're blueberry picking, having crawfish boils or going to Friday night football games," says Jennifer, "I'm just so thankful we're here." Check out the complete story and all the towns included on the list here.

Mistaken vote makes possible N.C. override of fracking ban

North Carolina Republicans successfully overrode Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of a fracking bill during a dramatic vote taken just after 11 p.m. Monday. But as The Charlotte Observer reports, the vote to override was just as controversial as the legislation that would have banned the drilling technique in that state. Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat who opposes fracking, pushed the wrong button and accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto. A maneuver by Republican Paul "Skip" Stam prevented her from changing her vote, giving the GOP a historic one-vote margin of victory. "It was a huge mistake," Carney says. "I take full responsibility." Democrats denounced Stam's quick parliamentary maneuver as a dirty trick that resulted in the passage of a landmark energy overhaul that could create a natural gas production industry in the state. "I am shocked and profoundly disappointed," says Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat. "First the speaker cut off debate, which is unfortunate with such an important piece of legislation with serious implications for North Carolina. Then to pass the override by accident and to clinch it with a procedural move is grossly unfair." Democrats walked over to Carney's desk to console the veteran legislator, who wept after she realized her mistake. Carney says it was the first time in her 10-year legislative career that she pushed the wrong button on a vote. Mistaken votes are not uncommon, and letting lawmakers change their votes is routine practice in the state Legislature. Read the full story here.

New drilling safety mandates expected 'any day now'

The federal government is on track to issue soon a final set of standards meant to boost the design and cementing of offshore wells in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster two years ago. James Watson, the director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, tells The Houston Chronicle the drilling safety measure is set to be finalized "any day now." When it comes out, the final drilling safety rule will tweak existing mandates issued in October 2010 in response to the lethal blowout of BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. The original measure, imposed on an emergency basis, essentially codified industry's existing best practices for designing and securing offshore wells. The regulation also imposed new requirements for certifying, inspecting and maintaining emergency devices—known as blowout preventers—that are a last line of defense against unexpected oil and gas surges. Although the mandates applied immediately in October 2010, regulators made clear they would take public comments and might revise the rule as a result. They also issued a five-page memo in March 2011 meant to clarify the requirements, amid oil and gas industry complaints that the mandates were muddled. More details on issues that have delayed the standards to date are available in the full story here.

American factory orders increase 0.7% in May

Companies placed more orders with U.S. factories in May than in April, demanding more computers, machinery and other equipment that signal investment plans. The increase is a welcome sign after two months of declining factory orders. Still, manufacturing has slowed from the start of the year, adding to worries that weaker global growth could weigh on the U.S. economy. The Commerce Department reports this morning that factory orders increased 0.7% in May. And core capital goods, such as machinery and computers, rose 2.1%. That's better than the 1.6% estimated in a preliminary report a week ago and is a good measure of companies' plans to invest. The increase left orders for durable goods at $469 billion, up 43.5% from their recession low, reached in March 2009. But orders are down 2.5% from their post-recession high, hit in December. Manufacturing has lost some vigor this year. U.S. consumers and businesses are less confident in the economy and are spending less. Europe's debt crisis has reduced demand for U.S. exports. And manufacturing has slowed in big countries like China, which rely on U.S. factories for equipment, machinery and vehicles. The Associated Press has additional figures in the full story here.

News roundup: N.O. young entrepreneurs make 'Inc.' list of 30 to watch … Company wants more land for Allen Parish refinery … Microsoft takes $6.2 billion charge, slows Internet hopes

In the bag: Big Easy Blends, a New Orleans-based company that makes pre-mixed frozen cocktails (in flavors such as Mar-Go-Rita, Daiq-Go-Ri, and Pia-Go-Lada) in flexible, portable pouches, is included in Inc. magazine's "30 Under 30" list for 2012. The libations were created in 2007 by brothers Antonio and Sal LaMartina and their high school friend Craig Cordes, and are now distributed in national chains such at Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie, Dollar General, Walgreens and Duane Reade. The company expects revenue to reach $27 million in 2012—up from $4.6 million in 2011. Check out the full story and the rest of Inc.'s "30 Under 30" list here.

Space race: A company is asking for more land in Allen Parish to develop plans for a proposed $100 million refinery at the former Arizona Chemical. Virtual Engineering Operations President J. Craig Harrington asked the Allen Parish Police Jury on Monday to consider leasing 150 acres of the commercial property near Oakdale. The company initially wanted 67 acres but says now it needs more room for the project, which will include a $4 million rail system, crude tanks, a fabrication shop and retention pond. Harrington says delays in engineering, permits and construction estimates have hindered the project.

Bottom line bust: Microsoft has admitted that its largest acquisition in the Internet sector was effectively worthless and wiped out any profit for the last quarter. This morning the company announced a $6.2 billion charge to write down the value of an online advertising agency it bought five years ago, news that surprised but didn't shock investors, who had largely forgotten Microsoft's purchase of aQuantive in 2007. That deal was initially expected to boost the software giant's online advertising revenue and counter rival Google's purchase of digital ad firm DoubleClick. Read the full story from Reuters here.

Today's poll question: Gov. Bobby Jindal says Louisiana will not begin to implement mandates outlined in the Affordable Care Act because "We don't think it makes any sense." Does it make sense to you?

Editor's note: Daily Report AM will not be published Wednesday, in observance of Independence Day. It will return Thursday. Have a safe and happy holiday.

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