Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, July 22, 2014

Uber begins filing requisite paperwork, but remains noncompliant with BR ordinance

Though ridesharing app company Uber has submitted several requisite forms to the city-parish over the past few days, it has not turned in all of the paperwork needed to be in compliance with the ordinance that allows such companies to operate in Baton Rouge. Still missing is a signed application and a copy of the company’s occupational license, among other things. “As of 9:30 this morning they are not in compliance with the ordinance,” says Assistant Parish Attorney Ashley Beck. “But it is up to the Taxi Control Board to decide if they want to try to address the issue or take any further action.” Last week, the Taxi Cab Control Board suggested it might issue a cease-and-desist order if Uber—which began offering its UberX service in Baton Rouge on July 11—did not comply with the local law. But, as regulators in other municipalities have discovered, taking on the popular company is extremely difficult: drivers work in unmarked cars as independent contractors and there is high demand for the service they provide. Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett says the company is completing the paperwork and will have it submitted soon. He says support for UberX in Baton Rouge has been overwhelming. He declines to estimate how many drivers are currently working the streets locally, but the company submitted a $2,250 check to the city-parish for its $75 per vehicle registration fee, which comes to 30 UberX cars. “It’s self-reporting so we have to take their word for it,” Beck says. “But they do fill out the form and sign their name to it.” —Stephanie Riegel

Metro Council to consider banning firearms from City Hall

Among a number of high-profile issues before the Metro Council this week, the council will introduce Wednesday an amendment to the city-parish code of ordinances to bar possession of firearms or other weapons in the City Hall building, located at 222 St. Louis St. Councilman Buddy Amoroso asks in an email to his fellow council members whether the prohibition isn't already covered under state law. Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson responds that the state law simply grants the city-parish the authority to prohibit weapon possession in certain commercial establishments and public buildings. The city-parish code of ordinances, however, only prohibits such possession in the city court facility and the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth floors of City Hall—excluding the third floor, where the council meets. The ordinance amendment, proposed by Councilman Chandler Loupe, would expand the prohibition to cover the entire City Hall building, including the council chambers. Other items up for consideration at this week's meeting include:
Annexation requests submitted by Live Oak Stables Inc., The Baton Rouge Water Works Co., The Cottage Inc. and other landowners for acreage totaling over 300 acres along the Mississippi River and a request by Louisiana Riverboat Casinos Inc. for nearby land totaling 630 acres.
• Councilwoman Denise Marcelle's proposal to ban discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, in housing and employment.
• Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer's request for approval to enter into a $49,500 contract with engineering firm AECOM to update the 2005 Downtown Baton Rouge Parking Feasibility Study.
• Councilman Ryan Heck's proposal to require background checks for peddler permit applicants.
—Rachel Alexander

Alford: Threat of being irrelevant unites Dems, GOP

“You won't get them to agree on policy issues like abortion or taxes. And you're not going to convince them to support the same candidate for office,” writes Jeremy Alford in his latest column. “Stated plainly, there are Democrats and there are Republicans and never the twain shall meet.” But endanger their respective fundraising bases and allow other groups to compete for influence over candidates, says Alford, and suddenly they're chummier than freshman fraternity brothers. “In a rare break from aiming for each other's jugulars, representatives from Louisiana's Democratic and Republican parties are embarking on an unexpected period of conciliation,” Alford writes. “What could pull the state's two mainline parties out of their opposing trenches for a bit of kumbaya? Money, of course—the mother's milk of politics.” While sources tell Alford preliminary talks between party leaders have already been held, the confluence of note will take place at a Baton Rouge coffeehouse this week. “Party officials are looking for sympathetic ears to explain why their operations are changing and, to an extent, suffering,” he writes. “Specifically, how the government regulates their fundraising and spending practices is at the heart of the joint effort. But intense competition from outside groups like super PACs is another source of concern for the parties.” Read the full column.

(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.).

La. ranked No. 47 for overall well-being of children

In its annual analysis of children's overall well-being, the 25th edition of the Kids Count Data Book ranks Louisiana No. 47 overall in the nation—ahead of just Nevada, New Mexico and Mississippi. The report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation takes into account four factors to judge children's well-being: economic status, education, health, and family and community. This year's book looks at state Census statistics up until 2012. Louisiana’s best individual ranking—at No. 42—is in the health category, for which the analysis breaks down into four indicators: percentage of low-birthweight babies, percentage of children without health insurance, rate of child and teen deaths per 100,000, and percentage of teens who abuse alcohol and drugs. The state ranks No. 43 in terms of economic well-being, a ranking arrived at by evaluating the percentages of children in poverty, children whose parents lack secure employment, children living in households with a high housing cost burden, and teens not in school and not working. In terms of education—evaluated according to a state’s preschool attendance, fourth grade reading proficiency, eighth grade math proficiency and high school graduation rate—Louisiana is ranked No. 47. The state’s lowest ranking—No. 48—is for family and community, indicated by a state’s percentages of children in single-parent families, children in families where the household head lacks a high school diploma and children living in high-poverty areas, as well as its rate of teen births per 1,000. The top five states with the best overall child well-being are Massachusetts, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and Minnesota. See the complete report. —Rachel Alexander

California company’s suit against LSU over sweetener dismissed

Quest Nutrition LLC’s patent case against LSU over the development of a sweetener has been dismissed by a federal court in Los Angeles. Bloomberg reports the El Segundo, California-based company had said in its pleadings that it had contacted LSU to consult over an invention of a potential new sweetener. The company claimed the school violated its confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement, and asked the court to declare that it was the owner of a patent application the school filed on the sweetener. It also accused the school of breach of contract and asked for a court order barring further disclosure of its confidential information. A federal court granted LSU’s motion to dismiss the case, saying questions of patent ownership and breach of contract properly belonged to state court. Additionally, the court found that while federal law permits cases in its court when the parties are citizens of two diverse jurisdictions, LSU acting as an “arm of the state” didn’t qualify as a “citizen.” Law360 reports Quest had also sought to conduct discovery on LSU board members, both in their official and individual capacities, but that U.S. District Judge S. James Otero also nixed that attempt.

LSU AgCenter kicks off new healthy living campaign targeting low-income areas

The LSU AgCenter is using billboards, banners and posters to encourage people in low-income areas to take easy steps toward healthier lives. Diane Sasser, director of an AgCenter education program for people in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, tells The Associated Press the campaign has three messages: eat more fruits and vegetables, get more active, and talk more with your family. Sasser says she hopes getting those messages into places people see easily and often will get them thinking about their own health habits. The first billboards went up in June. The banners and posters can be displayed in schools, stores and parish extension offices. The campaign will last about 18 months, featuring a new message every few months, Sasser said. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Educational Program, called SNAP-Ed, is paying for the campaign. Obesity is an even bigger problem among low-income people than among people who make more money. Sasser says small steps can start the path toward a healthier lifestyle, but those steps can be difficult for low-income people whose budgets and food choices often are limited. Reaching out to elementary and secondary schools is crucial, Sasser says. "If young people realize the importance of making good eating choices and getting physical activity, they can bring that knowledge home to their families," she says. "The opposite is true as well because their parents might participate in SNAP-Ed programs that teach them how to be a role model for their children. The billboards reinforce those lessons." Read the full story.

Appeals court panel deals blow to Obamacare

A federal appeals court dealt a potentially major blow to President Obama's health care law today, ruling that participants in health exchanges run by the federal government in 34 states are not eligible for tax subsidies. The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—which is sure to be appealed by the government—threatens the framework of the health care system for about 5 million Americans without employer-provided health plans. The case, filed by a coalition of states, employers and individuals, had been considered a long shot effort to derail the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Federal district judges in the District of Columbia and Virginia previously had ruled for the government. Three similar cases remain pending. The appeals panel ruled that as written, the health care law allows tax credits to be offered to qualified participants only in state-run exchanges. The administration had expected most if not all states to create their own, but only 16 states did so. The court says the Internal Revenue Service went too far in allowing participants in other states served by the federal exchange to qualify for billions of dollars in government assistance. The aid has helped boost enrollment figures to more than 8 million. "We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance," Judge Thomas Griffith says. "At least until states that wish to can set up exchanges, our ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly." USA Today has the full story.

News roundup: Investar CEO rings opening bell for Nasdaq … 'Business Report' among CAUW annual Big Five Awards honorees … TAF selling off Executive Suite access for individual football games

Let it ring: John D'Angelo, chief executive officer of Baton Rouge-based Investar Holding Corp., had the honor of ringing the opening bell for the Nasdaq exchange in Times Square this morning. D'Angelo and Investar officials were invited to open the market today in celebration of the company's initial public offering earlier this month. Investar, which was founded in 2006 and booked $27 million in net interest and noninterest revenue for the 12 months ended March 31, is now listed on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol “ISTR”.

Top honors: The Capital Area United Way on Monday presented its annual Big Five Awards, the agency's most prestigious honors, at its 2013-14 Annual Meeting & Awards Banquet. Scott Berg was honored with the Outstanding Volunteer Award, while Baton Rouge Business Report was given the Outstanding Media Award. The Community Impact Award went to The Emerge Center, the Standard of Excellence Award was given to Turner Industries and the Myron Falk Service Excellence Award went to CAUW staffer Wendy Abboud. United Way Worldwide U.S. President Stacey Stewart was the keynote speaker of the event, at which Mike Albano of Dow Chemical Co. was named 2014-15 CAUW board chair, Ralph Bender of Manship Media was named board chair elect and Stephen Toups of Turner Industries was named campaign cabinet chair.

Plenty of good seats still available: The Tiger Athletic Foundation is offering its members the opportunity to watch the LSU Tigers from the TAF Executive Suite in the new South End Zone expansion area this season. TAF sent out an email to members Monday, saying that for $12,500 TAF members can buy the suite—which includes 17 tickets, food and two parking passes—for the Sam Houston State or UL-Monroe games. For $15,000, the suite can be had for the Mississippi State and Kentucky games. The Ole Miss game is going for $20,000. TAF is taking requests for the tickets and says members will be selected to buy the suites based on their philanthropic ranking as of April 30.

Today’s poll question: The Republican Party of East Baton Rouge Parish has formally come out against a proposal to shrink the local school board from its current 11 members, saying such a reduction could lead to “unnecessary turmoil and confusion.” What do you think?

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