Capitol Views: Jindal presents light package to open session
Presenting the lightest administration agenda of his six years in office, Gov. Bobby Jindal today steered clear of the hot-button issues to be debated and asked lawmakers to improve workforce training, crack down on human trafficking and work toward a "fair and predictable legal environment." With little to stir them either way, senators and representatives applauded his policy package only once during his 18-minute address, on the topic of human trafficking. "This is a crime, unfortunately, that's happening in Louisiana," the governor said to applause. Those bills and much of the rest of his package have yet to be filed for the session that runs through June 2. Taking a leaf from presidential State of the Union addresses of the past, Jindal introduced eight individuals on the side of the House chamber who, he said, had benefited from laws passed during his term that had enabled them to stay in, return to or move to Louisiana for employment and business opportunities. Building off of the theme, Jindal likewise promised to put $141 million into higher education, of which $40 million would be for workforce training. Likely to be the most controversial item in his package will be litigation changes backed by the business community in its call for tort reform. One bill introduced by Rep. Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, would lower the threshold for jury trials from $50,000—the highest in the nation—to $15,000. Left unmentioned by the governor were bills to thwart the massive lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies for coastal damages filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East. Jindal also failed to mention legislation to restrict political subdivisions from hiring outside lawyers with contingency fee contracts. The author of a package of those bills, Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, has said that the governor's staff is "adamant" about their passage.
—Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the governor's light agenda could allow lawmakers to make headway with their own issues. "Any time you have a vacuum you are going to have forces that move in to fill that vacuum," he said. So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor's office. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson of New Orleans, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a press conference following the governor's speech that the administration's budget proposal was a "farce" and that there shouldn't be millions of dollars in need for workforce development. But several years of cuts have led the state to this point, she added. "The problem is the investments have not been made by this administration in K through 12, nor have they been made in higher education," Peterson said. John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on
Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session on June 2. The report is also available to
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New citizens group says it will aggressively push for EBR school improvements
A new citizens group called The Committee for Progress, led by a group of local businessmen, announced today that it plans to play an active role in shaping the future of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. Tim Johnson, spokesman for the group, declined to name the businessmen behind the effort, but says they will be actively engaged in raising funds, advertising and recruiting new members through social media platforms. While The Committee for Progress is against the city of St. George incorporation effort, Johnson says, it is in favor of bringing more local control to schools at the neighborhood level. On Friday, BRAC announced it will support legislatively changing the governance structure of the school system
to allow for more school control at the local level. Johnson says the group hasn't officially taken a position on the BRAC proposal, nor has it taken a position on proposals for changing the system brought forth by Sen. Mack "Bodi" White, R-Central, or EBR Schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor. "We're looking to bring the sides together to find meaningful changes that we can all agree on," Johnson says. "It's time to find real solutions and implement those solutions, and then get down to the business of improving education for all of the children in East Baton Rouge Parish." The Committee for Progress currently has about 100 members, Johnson says. See the complete Committee for Progress statement. —Steve Sanoski
Commercial Properties to develop build-to-suits for H&E Equipment nationwide
Commercial Properties Realty Trust has inked a deal with H&E Equipment to develop build-to-suit facilities for the company, which has more than 70 stores around the country from which it leases and sells heavy construction and earthmoving equipment. "We prefer to lease facilities as opposed to owning them, and in the past we have tried to find people to do build-to-suits for us and it has been difficult," says H&E President and CEO John Engquist. "I got to talking to [Commercial Properties CEO] Carolyn Martin about it, and this made a lot of sense. It's a good deal for them and for us." H&E, a publicly traded company with headquarters off Airline Highway and annual revenues of more than $259 million, has a steady need for new facilities, opening as many as eight new stores every year, Engquist says. Under the terms of the agreement, Commercial Properties will acquire land and build facilities of varying size for H&E, depending on the particular market. H&E will then lease the facilities. "This is what Commercial Properties does," says Engquist. "They're very good at it." This is the second major deal in recent months between Engquist and Commercial Properties, the for-profit real estate company owned by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. In late October, Engquist's residential real estate company, Level Homes, acquired from Commercial Properties the residential portion of its 400-acre TND
called 5401 North in Raleigh, N.C. Level Homes is scheduled to begin construction on the first home sites at 5401 North later this year. —Stephanie Riegel
'Business Report' planner: Cassidy hosts town hall for seniors in Gonzales tonight … Mary Ellen Slayter to address BRAC investor luncheon … Hollis and Claitor at Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, hosts a town hall meeting to discuss issues related to senior citizens at Azalea Estates Assisted Living and Retirement Community, 2305 South Purpera Ave., in Gonzales, from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday:
Mary Ellen Slayter, managing director of Reputation Capital Media Services, is guest speaker at BRAC's Monthly Investor Luncheon, which will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hartley/Vey Studio in the Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St. Cost is $20 for BRAC investors and $30 for guests. Get complete details and tickets.Tuesday:
State Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, a candidate for U.S. Senate, and state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, a candidate for the U.S. Congress 6th District seat, are guest speakers of the Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon, which will be held at Cafť Amťricain, 7521 Jefferson Highway, and begins at 11:30 a.m. Lunch is $15.
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Natural gas industry struggles to keep promises
America's plan to use more natural gas to run power plants, make chemicals, drive vehicles and heat homes may not go as smoothly as expected. There's plenty of natural gas in the ground, everyone seems to agree. But, The Associated Press reports, the harsh weather this winter shows there are obstacles to producing it, and more pipelines have to be built. The bitter temperatures boosted demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses. But wells in some places literally froze, making it difficult for some drillers to keep gas flowing. And the high demand clogged pipelines, so even when there was enough production, the gas couldn't get where it needed to go. Shortages cropped up, and prices in some places soared to record levels. Californians and Texans were asked to reduce their power consumption because utilities were running low on gas to run power plants. Montana State University in Billings had to cancel classes for a day because of a natural gas shortage. "We struggled to get the supply there as quickly as we needed," says Colin Parfitt, who runs Chevron's global trading operations. "It's a reminder there will be volatility in our market." The problems came as a shock because the natural gas market was thought to have escaped from the volatility of the past—drillers have discovered enormous amounts of natural gas, production is at record levels and prices had been relatively steady. But now there is concern about whether the natural gas industry can produce all of the gas their old and new customers need, and deliver it to them through a pipeline system that hasn't been able to keep up with the new demand. Read the full story.
No relief in sight for crawfish prices due to long winter
The long, cold winter means crawfish are scarce and expensive across Louisiana. "I have been doing this for 14 years, and these are the worst numbers for price and yields that I've ever seen, and I keep very good records," Stephen Minvielle, director of the Louisiana Crawfish Research and Promotion Board and the Louisiana Crawfish Farmers Association, tells The Associated Press. Restaurants usually charge $3 to $4 a pound for boiled crawfish at this time of year, but the price is nearly $8 at restaurants and markets across the state, according to the Gulf Seafood Institute. Live crawfish, meanwhile, are still selling for around $4 a pound in the Capital Region and beyond—or about twice the price they were at this time last year. During cold weather, crawfish stay at the bottom of their ponds or streams, and don't eat. That means they're also much smaller than usual for this time of year—and they're not taking the bait in crawfish traps. Louisiana produces more crawfish than any other state. The LSU AgCenter estimates that the 91 million pounds of wild and farmed crawfish produced last year had a value of about $152.8 million.
News roundup: Live from Grand Isle, Jindal to appear on 'Mad Money with Jim Cramer' today … Health law cited as U.S. uninsured rate drops … Jindal on Norquist’s list of top Republicans to contend for White House in 2016
All jacked up:
CNBC's Mad Money with Jim Cramer
is airing a special broadcast with Gov. Bobby Jindal at 5 p.m. According to a press release, Louisiana will be center stage as Cramer and Jindal discuss America's energy economy and the Pelican State's leadership role in the sector. The show is set to broadcast live from the Ensco 99 oil rig, which is located off Grand Isle. The show is part of a series called "Invest in America." "We have broadcast live from the Bakken Shale, the Utica Shale and now from the Gulf of Mexico, a region of perhaps untold potential," says Cramer in the release. 3 million more:
The share of Americans without health insurance is dropping to the lowest levels since President Barack Obama took office, but sign-ups under his health care law lag among Hispanics—a big pool of potential beneficiaries. The Associated Press reports that with just three weeks left to enroll on the new insurance exchanges, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds that 15.9% of U.S. adults are uninsured thus far in 2014, down from 17.1% for the last three months of 2013. The drop of 1.2 percentage points in the uninsured rate translates to about 3 million people gaining coverage. Read the full story.Naming names:
Grover Norquist, the influential conservative who serves as president of Americans for Tax Reform, thinks there are only six Republicans who can win the 2016 Republican nomination for president. Included on his list, which he revealed to Business Insider
following last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, are: Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. "There are only six people who can credibly run start-to-finish, and any of them could conceivably win the presidency," Norquist says. Read the full story.