Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, July 25, 2014

Ascension Parish may land chemical manufacturing facility

Chicago-based Stepan Company—a global manufacturer of specialty and intermediate chemicals—announced today that it has funded final engineering and design work for a proposed $60 million to $70 million chemical production facility in Ascension Parish. A final decision on whether to proceed to construction is expected in the second quarter of 2015. In a joint announcement with Gov. Bobby Jindal, Stepan President and CEO F. Quinn Stepan Jr. said that if completed, the project would create 33 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of $70,000 plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project would add another 98 indirect jobs. The company was offered an incentive package that includes a $500,000 performance-based grant to offset infrastructure costs, along with the comprehensive workforce development solutions of LED's FastStart. In addition, the company is expected to utilize Louisiana's Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs. Stepan Company recorded $1.88 billion in 2013 revenue. LED has the full release.

Louie's move pushed back until fall

Louie's Cafť won't be moving into its new location on Lake Street by the end of the summer as originally planned. Permitting and construction delays have pushed back the timeline, and owner Jimmy Wetherford says it could be October before the restaurant's new site—a former Wendy's—is ready. "But I'm not going to worry about it," says Wetherford, who has owned the popular 24-hour diner since 1978. "If we were a new business we'd be in a hurry to get in. But we're already open so we're not going to move until we're ready, because I don't want to risk doing it wrong." Wetherford and Louie's co-owner Frank Duvic acquired the former Wendy's property just down the street from Louie's current location in March for $825,000 and announced plans to spend $200,000 renovating the site to recreate the look and feel of the existing Louie's as much as possible. In recent days, the pace of construction has picked up and Wetherford is pleased with how well the project is going. "They've even come up with some new stuff that's better than we originally envisioned it," he says. One of the motivations behind the planned move is to give Louie's more parking. The existing restaurant has just four spaces; the new one will have 32. "We're looking forward to it," says Wetherford. "It will be a like a dream come true." —Stephanie Riegel

LaPolitics: District judges faced with age limit question

Attorneys, judges and others interviewed by LaPolitics expect 15 to 20 district judge races this year. Many of the seats, which carry with them six-year terms, are opening up because judges either want to retire for the obvious reasons—to practice law, be with their families, play golf or fish—or because they have reached the required retirement age of 70. "We're seeing more open seats than we're used to, but it's due mainly to retirement. But what we're all waiting to see is how many judges that are age-limited qualify to run anyway," said a source tracking the races. "A few of them have been talking about it." If a judge turns 70 while in office, he or she is allowed to continue serving but not seek re-election. Also, anyone 70 or older cannot run for judge. Lawmakers, however, passed HB 96 by Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, during this year's session to let voters decide whether the ban should be overturned. With expectations high that the constitutional amendment will pass, sources say some age-limited judges may qualify for re-election next month. "If voters approve the constitutional amendment on the November ballot, and it takes effect as planned before the swearing-in in January, then the judges at or above the retirement age who want to run again may be able to do so," said an attorney. "What they're trying to figure out is who has the standing to bring the challenge. Maybe no one will need to. It's unclear right now."

—Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne will have a team of new faces—many with national experience—surrounding him next year for his planned run for governor. George Kennedy, Dardenne's longtime senior consultant, has hired Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based operative with a big book of work in Texas, as campaign manager. The D.C.-based Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research will also be coming back on to conduct polling, and Targeted Victory will be handling analytics management and other digital efforts. "They're our stable of studs," said Kennedy, who will likewise be overseeing Dardenne's media. Carney, who runs Norway Hill Associates, has advised a large slate of conservative candidates ranging from Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Bob Dole and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Working for former President George H.W. Bush, he also served as White House political affairs director.

They said it: "Utah doesn't think of itself in these terms. This is not Louisiana. This is not Illinois." —Matthew J. Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, in The New York Times, expressing shock over a scandal in Utah involving the attorney general.

(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.)

'225 Dine': Gourmet Girls opens new food truck Pronto

Kathy Mangham, owner and chef of local catering service Gourmet Girls, is partnering with Hayden Phares of Zeeland Street Market and starting a new mobile food service called Pronto. The truck will be parked in front of Gourmet Girls at 3025 Perkins Road from Wednesday to Friday each week starting at 11 a.m. and serving until food sells out, Mangham tells 225 Dine. However, depending on customer feedback, she may expand the hours down the road. "A lot of people come and knock on the door [of the catering business] and want to know who I am, what I'm doing and want to buy food," she says. "This provides a way for those people who are not using catering services often to get my food." Pronto focuses on garden-to-table foods, using fresh, seasonal and, when possible, organic produce. Phares will help out with prepping and cooking a few items each day as well. "My goal is to cook things that are healthy and good for you," she says. "Everything is served in moderation. There's nothing fried. I want to feature produce that is at its peak, when it's ripest." The truck started serving Wednesday, offering jalapeno pulled pork sliders with cabbage slaw, grilled chicken and peach salad with figs, honey Sriracha grilled chicken, and seasonal watermelon basil agua fresca. The menu will be posted daily on Gourmet Girls' Instagram account. Mangham says she'll consider moving the truck around the Capital City if there's a demand. "There's so much in this area already," she says. "If it proves to be a thing where people want us to come to other places, we can certainly drive it around. For me, it's all about cooking the food I love." Get more area culinary news in the latest edition of the weekly e-newsletter 225 Dine.

'WSJ': Invoking anti-fraud law, Louisiana doctor gets rich

Over two decades, Metairie internist William LaCorte has received $38 million from five of the 12 lawsuits he's filed accusing health care companies of defrauding taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, The Wall Street Journal reports. Those five suits have together led the government to recover hundreds of millions of dollars. Dr. LaCorte is a so-called serial whistleblower, one of the more prolific plaintiffs among a growing number of Americans who use the U.S. False Claims Act to finger alleged wrongdoing. Critics say the act's incentives go too far, encouraging people to file suits that often go nowhere. Of the 5,400 suits filed from fiscal 1987 through 2010 that had outcomes, 74% didn't result in settlements or judgments, Justice Department statistics show. Government agencies say they rely on citizen suits under the act to help find misdeeds. They are "instrumental in bringing to the government allegations of fraud that might otherwise go undetected," a Justice Department spokeswoman says. Dr. LaCorte embodies both sides of the debate. He once got a letter from a federal prosecutor's office praising his "good citizenry" in a suit that helped win the government $187 million. But his track record is mixed. Of his 10 cases that have concluded, he failed to win a payout in five. His two other suits are pending. The government has joined one and declined to join the other, which the defendant calls "glaringly deficient." Dr. LaCorte says all his allegations sprang out of his practice and that money wasn't his main motivator. He also notes that even some of his unsuccessful suits helped government cases. Read the full story. (Subscription may be required.)

Double up on tax exemptions for school supplies during state sales tax holiday, LDR says

Many back-to-school expenses are eligible for state income tax deductions, according to a release by the Louisiana Department of Revenue. The three income tax breaks under Louisiana School Tuition and Expense Deductions include deductions for elementary and secondary school tuition, public school uniforms, textbooks and school supplies required by schools, and home-school expenses. In addition to these deductions—for which year-round school expenses qualify—school supply purchases during the state's annual sales tax holiday will also benefit from a state sales tax exemption. The tax holiday will be Aug. 1 and 2, when most retail purchases are exempt from the 4% state sales tax. Read the LDR's full release.

News roundup: LMOGA announces workforce development partnership … 'The Automotive Hour' radio show moves to Talk 107.3 … Academy Sports to open third Baton Rouge area store

Teamwork: The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association has announced an agreement with higher education institutions and state organizations that establishes a long-term public-private partnership to develop a program to help Louisiana businesses meet the growing workforce needs of the deep-water exploration and production industry in the Gulf. According to the press release, the educational institutions and LMOGA will develop a recommended plan to move forward with developing the program, which will then be considered by the individual institutions and LMOGA for implementation. Read the full release.

Shifting gears: After 23 years on Clear Channel's WJBO, local radio show The Automotive Hour will move to Talk 107.3 FM, operated by Guaranty Broadcasting, this Saturday, July 26. "I was in contract review with my current station, and Talk 107.3 FM approached me with a great new offer," says auto repair shop owner Louis Altazan, who doles out automotive advice on the show. "I'll be able to expand the show and at the same time reach additional fans." The program will maintain its traditional 10-11 a.m. time slot on Saturday mornings.

Making moves: Academy Sports + Outdoors has announced that it will open its third Baton Rouge area retail store in the Juban Crossing retail development in Denham Springs. The 71,000-square-foot store—Academy's 17th in Louisiana—will be located at the intersection of Juban Street and Interstate 12. It will bring 150 new jobs to the area, according to Academy's press release, as well as offer a new digital golf simulator for golfers to test-drive Academy's selection of clubs and a new archery shop with a lane for customers to be fitted for the right bow. Read the full release.

Today's poll question: Do you agree with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board's vote to reduce the size of the board from 11 to 9 members?

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