Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, April 16, 2014

Capitol Views: Panel supports bill to shrink EBR school board

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board would go from 11 members to seven under a bill approved by a legislative committee today, despite strong objections from two Baton Rouge lawmakers. HB 1178 by Rep. Dalton Honorť, D-Baton Rouge, would direct the school board to reapportion itself in time for the fall elections, creating six single-member districts and one at-large representative. "A smaller school board would be more efficient for East Baton Rouge," Honorť said, noting that the board had 12 members before Zachary, Baker and Central formed their own boards. He estimated cost savings of $100,000 per year. He was supported by Adam Knapp, president and CEO of BRAC, who cited national studies that put the ideal school board size at between five and nine members. "A good size is seven," he said. "It is best practices … it leads to better decisions." The House & Governmental Affairs Committee—which has no members from Baton Rouge—voted 6-2 for the bill, with all yea votes coming from Republicans. During testimony, strong opposition was expressed by Reps. Regina Barrow and Pat Smith, both of Baton Rouge, who complained that Honorť filed his bill without consulting them or seeking input from the community. All three legislators are African-American Democrats. "This is definitely unconstitutional," said Smith. She claimed the new make-up with the at-large member would disenfranchise black voters, for only two African-American candidates ever have been elected parishwide. Belinda Davis of One Community, One School System told committee members, "I firmly believe this is not your job. This is not something that should be forced upon us."

—If a bill approved by a Senate committee today becomes law, organizers of the city of St. George incorporation drive would have to gain enough signatures in time to get their referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot or will have to wait until 2016. SB 674 would set a moratorium on incorporation elections until January 2016, in order to allow a committee to study possible changes in the current law and come up with recommendations for the 2015 legislative session. Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, said one needed change would be to put time limits on petition drives. "Now you can file a petition and it can go on forever," he said. "This causes concern in the business community." Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, agreed: "We need to put a period on some of these processes." Before today's committee meeting, Nevers told LaPolitics that he met with St. George representatives, who asked to be taken out of his bill. But he agreed only to submit an amendment that would give groups with existing petition drives until Jan. 1 to have an election. In committee, however, he deferred to Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb's amendment to require the election be held by Nov. 4. Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, a supporter of the St. George effort, asked her to push the date in her amendment to Dec. 4, but she declined. The bill passed without objection. Afterwards, Colomb and Nevers said they were willing to work with White on more possible changes to the bill.

(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

Vacant tract on Pecue between I-10 and Perkins sells for $2.3 million

A 4.1-acre vacant tract of land fronting Pecue Lane between Perkins Road and Interstate 10 was sold on Tuesday to Coastal Investment Enterprises LLC for $2.3 million, says Gaines Garrett of Beau Box Commercial Real Estate, who represented the seller—Alvarez Construction Co.—in the deal. "We're thrilled about the sale of this tract," says Carlos Alvarez, the construction company's president, adding that it is one of five commercial tracts the company had. According to Beau Box's website, the property subtype is office and retail, and Alvarez says he would expect to see such a development go up there. The buying LLC is represented by Paul Pepitone, who declined to disclose plans for the property when reached by Daily Report. Pepitone also represents SNF Enterprises LLC, which last week completed the purchase of a parcel in nearby Highland Hill Estates for $1.35 million, according to records filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court. It is not clear whether the the deals are related. —Rachel Alexander

Zoning code topples BR injury attorney's idea for an 18-wheeler atop new offices

Though advertising is commonplace in the legal profession these days, Gordon McKernan has taken it to new heights—literally—with a plan for a three-dimensional billboard atop his new offices that features the personal injury attorney himself standing on an 18-wheeler. But McKernan has run into a snag with his latest plans to promote his practice. It appears the city-parish zoning code won't allow him to place three-dimensional signage atop the new office building he is planning to build on a 1.1-acre tract on Hilton Avenue adjacent to the Baton Rouge Marriott. "We wanted to put an 18-wheeler with a guy on top of it," McKernan says of his original idea for the new building. "It was greatly debated, but the regulations don't allow it, so I am challenging my architect to come up with something within the realm of good taste that will also create buzz and brand." That architect is Scott Ritter, and he has his work cut out for him, as he tries to balance the restrictions of the Unified Development Code with what McKernan has asked him to do. One possibility is to use part of the facade of the building, which will be four stories and is visible from the interstate, for signage. "His building will be the billboard for Gordon McKernan Injury attorneys," says Ritter. "How do we make that happen? That's what we're trying to figure out." McKernan acquired the land for the new building last September for $590,000. He originally hoped it would be under construction by March, but because of the issues with signage regulation his plans are running behind schedule. —Stephanie Riegel

Land deals signal 'quicker pace' on Comite diversion project, attorney says

Larry Bankston, attorney for the Amite River Basin Commission, says the Comite River Diversion Canal Project—which Congress originally approved in 1992 to lower flood stages along the Amite and Comite rivers—is finally gaining some momentum. "The project is moving at a quicker pace now," he says, "and hopefully they'll get some funds available in Congress to complete some of the bridge construction and railroad bridge construction on Highway 61. Then we would have at least a portion of the canal functioning." Recent progress is evidenced in the approximately $1.45 million property that the Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District acquired for the project Tuesday from three separate sellers. At approximately 66 acres, the tract is both the largest and the most expensive tract the district's board of commissioners will purchase for phase 1 of the project, Bankston says. "This piece of property is probably the most expensive piece of property that we will purchase because it's fronted by Highway 61," he says, adding that although the property will be held in the commission's name, the price is shared between the commission and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
Bankston says the commission will finalize the purchases of another two properties—one 5 acres and the other 10 acres—within the next few weeks. "This is what we call our advanced acquisition process, and we are negotiating with only sellers at this point," Bankston says. "There are 17 different properties in that process right now that we've approached." —Rachel Alexander

'225 Weekender': Local stores celebrate Record Store Day

Conceived in 2007, Record Store Day is a holiday of sorts for the thousands of independently owned record stores in the United States. Customers and musicians come together with record stores' staff and celebrate the culture of the shop with special CD and vinyl releases issued exclusively for the day. As 225 Weekender reports, Record Store Day kicks off Saturday across the country, and in Baton Rouge, Lagniappe Records and Atomic Pop Shop will be celebrating with in-store performances, giveaways and sales. Lagniappe will open at 10 a.m., and musical performances start at noon with Night Janitor and continue throughout the day with Listen, Earth; Della; The Chambers; and Young Fathers. Atomic Pop Shop will host music at noon from Hot Llamas, Painted Hands at 2 p.m. and special acoustic sets from Clay Parker throughout the day. Get more details and learn about more local events on tap for this weekend in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter.

Average La. doctor supporting nearly 10 jobs, report says

Louisiana doctors support approximately 94,000 jobs in the state, creating roughly $7.7 billion in wages annually and generating an estimated $13.2 billion in sales revenue, as well as $461.2 million in state and local sales taxes. Those are the highlights of an economic impact report released today by the American Medical Association, which details doctors' economic impact on the national and state level. The study, which the AMA says only includes doctors whose primary duty is to treat patients, says physicians nationwide account for $1.6 trillion in wages annually, supporting approximately 9.9 million jobs. "The purpose of the study is to provide key data demonstrating the tremendous impact physicians have on the state and national economy, and underscores that physicians are strong economic drivers in their local communities, contributing to better health care and a more productive society," the AMA says of the study, adding the data can be used "in a wide variety of advocacy campaigns, including supporting adequate levels of Medicaid reimbursement to show that states directly benefit when they create a positive practice environment for physicians." In Louisiana, the study says the average doctor supports 9.59 jobs, including their own, $784,110 in salaries each year, as well as $1.3 million in sales revenue and $47,047 in state and local sales taxes. See an overview and access the complete report. —Staff report

News roundup: LED opens nomination period for new innovation award … La. Senate committee backs bill targeting levee board … Some exempted from minimum wage, increased or not

Naming names: LED announced today that it will designate November as Louisiana Innovation Month, and as part of the new initiative it will highlight one Louisiana company, person or organization each business day during the month on its website. Those featured will also be included in LED's Louisiana Economic Quarterly magazine. LED is accepting nominations through Friday, May 16. Get complete details and make your nominations.

Veto power: Louisiana Senators have advanced a bill that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers public policy. The Associated Press reports the Senate Transportation Committee today backed the bill without objection, despite criticism that it would introduce political meddling into flood protection. The bill moves next to the full Senate for debate. Read the full story.

On the sidelines: Some low-paid workers won't benefit even if a long-shot Democratic proposal to raise the federal minimum wage becomes law. The Associated Press reports more than a dozen categories of jobs are exempt from the minimum, currently $7.25 an hour. Those exclusions, rooted in labor law history, run from some workers with disabilities to crews on fishing ships to casual babysitters. Read the full story.
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