Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Fri, March 30, 2012

News Alert: Legislative audit report suggests pension reform package unconstitutional

A package of proposed reforms to the state's debt-ridden pension system faces challenges to its constitutionality if enacted by the Legislature. That's according to the opinion of outside legal counsel retained by the state Legislative Auditor to review the pension reform bills currently winding their way through the session. The report states that several clauses within the four major pieces of legislation, backed by the Jindal administration, could be alleged to violate both the state and federal constitutions and would likely result in lawsuits brought in state court. Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera tells Daily Report he requested the report because his actuarial staff has to prepare actuarial notes to accompany the bills before they can be heard by House and Senate committees. “We wanted an independent analysis of what legal hurdles we have so the actuaries can determine the potential cost of the legal issues,” Purpera says of the report, prepared by Dallas-based Strasburger and Price law firm. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who is shepherding the administration's bills through the session, has not seen the report but says it is highly unusual to have a report raising the possibility of legal challenges this early in the process. “Sometimes things don't end up the way they start out. That's usually what happens in the legislative process ... So I don't know why they would ask for an opinion at the beginning of the legislative process,” he says, adding that he does not expect the report to change the way the bills are handled this session. Click here to download a PDF of the complete report. For a response from Gov. Bobby Jindal's communications director, click here.—Stephanie Riegel

Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication.

Obama says world oil supply adequate to toughen Iran sanctions

President Barack Obama is moving ahead with tough new sanctions aimed at squeezing Iran's oil exports, having determined there is enough crude on world markets to take the step without harming U.S. allies. Obama's move allows the United States to go forward with sanctions on foreign banks that continue to purchase oil from Iran. The sanctions aim to further isolate Iran's central bank, which processes nearly all of the Islamic Republic's oil purchases, from the global economy. U.S. officials hope ratcheting up economic pressure will both push Iran to abandon its disputed nuclear program and convince Israel to give sanctions time to take hold before pursuing a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The United States and its allies believe that Iran is pursuing a nuclear bomb; Iran denies that. Under a sweeping defense bill Obama signed at the end of December, he had until today to determine if there was enough oil supply on the world market to allow countries to cut their oil purchases from Iran. The president says he based his determination on global economic conditions, the level of spare oil capacity and increased production by some countries, among other factors. He pledges to continue monitoring the global market closely to ensure it can handle a reduction of oil purchases from Iran.

Payton reportedly plans to appeal suspension

Saints coach Sean Payton has decided to file an appeal of his season-long suspension with the NFL today, a person familiar with the decision tells The Associated Press. The unnamed source—who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the league nor the Saints have officially announced the appeal—says Payton's filing will also ask NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for his guidance on the parameters of the suspension. Goodell's suspension of Payton is to go into effect Sunday. It stems from Payton's alleged role in connection with the Saints' bounty system, which offered improper cash bonuses for big hits that either knocked opponents out of games or left them needing help off of the field. Goodell said at NFL meetings earlier this week in Florida that Payton could have some contact with the team if he appeals, but did not go into detail. The commissioner has also said the Saints coach would be allowed to continue working while the appeal process played out, but also that the appeal would be expedited, indicating that Payton would not likely be able to add on much work time should his appeal be upheld. The NFL could not immediately provide details today on how Payton's decision to file an appeal would affect the timeline for the process to play out. The results of the appeal could affect whether Bill Parcells comes out of retirement to take over as interim coach while his former offensive assistant and protg is suspended. Read the full story here.

BP argues feds must turn over oil spill documents

BP is accusing the federal government of improperly withholding scientific documents that could show it overestimated the amount of oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the company's blown-out Macondo well in 2010. Late Thursday, the oil company asked U.S. Magistrate Sally Shushan in New Orleans to order the government to turn over thousands of documents that "appear to relate to flow rate issues" and the work of scientists who served on the government's "Flow Rate Technical Group" following the spill. Today Shushan gave the government until April 5 to reply to BP's argument. She also ordered the parties to meet and try to reach an agreement on sharing documents. The government estimates 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed from the well off the coast of Louisiana, but the company says the technical group's earlier estimates may have been lower. BP faces penalties based on how much oil spilled. BP argues the government cannot withhold more than 10,000 documents on flow-rate issues because they concern factual issues, not policy determinations. The government can't invoke the "deliberative process" privilege to protect those documents, the company argues. BP claims the government's 4.9 million barrel estimate, announced on Aug. 2, 2010, was the fourth official estimate released by the technical group. Its earlier estimates "suggested a lower measured flow rate," the company says. On March 2, BP announced a multibillion-dollar settlement with plaintiffs' attorneys representing more than 100,000 individuals and businesses that blame the spill for economic losses. But the deal doesn't resolve the Justice Department's claims against the company over the blowout.

'Time' takes note of Louisiana's growing startup culture

A new feature out today from Time magazine, titled "How Louisiana Is Luring Startups," dissects the way a natural disaster, a new economic development approach and a generous tax incentive package have led to a bona fide boom in Bayou State entrepreneurialism. "While Louisiana's recovery is by no means complete—it's still one of the poorest states in the nation and New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward remains a ghost town—a new culture of entrepreneurship is taking root not just in the Crescent City, but in other urban pockets around the state as well," the article says. Citing research from the Kauffman Foundation, Time says entrepreneurship in the state is 46% higher than it was a decade ago, with 410 out of every 100,000 adults creating new businesses there each year. Louisiana now ranks seventh in the nation in entrepreneurial activity, up from 24th place between 1999 and 2001. Check out the full story from Time here; and read the 225 March cover story on Baton Rouge's rising startup culture here.

La. has third-most tornado touchdowns in U.S., report says

A new tornado and hail risk report out from CoreLogic says Louisiana was home to the third-highest rate of twister touchdowns per 100 square miles in the United States between 1980 and 2009. The report, says CoreLogic, flies in the face of what most people assume about tornadoes: that they occur most often in the middle section of the country known as "Tornado Alley." That region is typically considered by meteorologists and the media to encompass mainly the Great Plains states and surrounding areas, spanning Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Illinois. Citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, CoreLogic's report says of the 10 states with the highest number of tornado touchdowns between 1980 and 2009, only three actually fell within the states traditionally included in Tornado Alley. See the complete 13-page report here.

'225': Unexpected profusion of eats on Florida

Driving down the concrete highway from River Road all the way across town towards Denham Springs, it may not look like it at first glance—but Florida Boulevard, a corridor that hasn't seen a real heyday since the 1960s, now has one of the hottest food scenes in Baton Rouge. Most intriguing is that this renaissance of food culture is rooted in Florida Boulevard's multicultural inhabitants. Italian, Vietnamese, Mexican cuisines and more can all be found in eateries along side streets and occupying long-forgotten shopping centers. And it's not only the international cuisine that is flourishing. Cajun seafood and mouthwatering soul food give diners options inaccessible in most other parts of the city. Read the full feature by Jay Ducote in this month's 225 here.

News roundup: Louisiana's jobless rate at 7% in February … Shaw executive VP announces retirement … Southern board confirms Broussard as new AD

Clocking in: Louisiana's unemployment rate crept up by 0.1 percentage point in February to 7% from the month previous, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. However, that's down from 7.5% in February 2011. The rates are adjusted for seasonal factors. The number of those officially listed as unemployed rose to 144,400 in February, an increase from 141,900 in January. In February 2011, there were 158,200 Louisiana residents listed as unemployed. The civilian workforce—those either working or actively seeking jobs—jumped last month by 2,500 from January. The workforce was down 10,900 from February 2011. Without seasonal adjustments, the BLS said the state had 46,700 more non-farm jobs last month than in February 2011. The national unemployment rate for February was 8.3%.

Clocking out: The Shaw Group Inc. today announced the retirement of Executive Vice President Gary Graphia, effective May 1. Graphia has been with Shaw since August 1999, initially serving as chief legal officer and corporate secretary, later as executive vice president of corporate development, and later still as chief operating officer. Shaw says it expects to enter into a short-term consulting agreement with Graphia. During his tenure, the company completed three major acquisitions, including Stone & Webster in 2000, IT Group in 2002 and Westinghouse in 2006.

New morning: Southern University's Board of Supervisors voted today to confirm William Broussard as the school's next athletic director. The board voted to give him a two-year contract extension with a one-year option. Broussard replaces Greg Lafleur, who was fired last year following an arrest on prostitution charges in Houston. He was later cleared of the charges. Basketball coach Sandy Pugh is serving as interim director until Broussard begins his term. The Southern board did not specify the start date of Broussard's directorship.

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