Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, September 16, 2014

New angel fund looking for partners in BR

A new angel investor fund is looking for potential investment partners in Baton Rouge to raise some $4 million that will be used to help fund startup businesses along the 10/12 corridor. The fund, South Coast Angel Fund II, will be the second fund created by South Coast, a New Orleans-based entity established four years ago that creates early-stage venture capital funds. The first South Coast Angel Fund raised $2 million and invested between $300,000 and $500,000 each in five startups, including two in Baton Rouge and three in New Orleans. Fund executive Jon Atkinson says the second angel fund will be about twice as large, and that plans call for the creation of additional South Coast angel funds in the future. "The capital community in south Louisiana is not well-organized," says Atkinson. "That is the pain a lot of entrepreneurs are feeling." South Coast is one of the few committed angel funds in the state, which means members invest in the fund up front, decide collectively on which startup companies to fund and share in any returns. South Coast Angel Fund II will have a Baton Rouge chapter, where members can gather to hear startup pitches, which will be made twice a month in person to the membership. This evening from 6 to 8 p.m., Atkinson will lead a free educational session on Angel Investing 101 at the offices of Kean Miller downtown. Register to attend. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.

Alford: Dr. Smith goes to Washington, via Louisiana

Louisiana seems to have an ongoing love affair with physician-politicians, says Jeremy Alford in his latest column. "Half of Louisiana's House delegation have medical degrees," Alford writes, noting Republican Congressmen John Fleming of Minden is a family physician, Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, is a cardiovascular surgeon, and Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is a gastroenterologist. "Recent polls suggest voters favor and trust health care professionals above most others." And while Congressman Vance McAllister, R-Swartz, isn't a doctor, Alford notes he is facing one in challenger Dr. Ralph Abraham. "Aside from public trust, physician-politicians have access to a ready-made fundraising base as well," Alford writes. "Abraham has so far raised nearly $35,000 from physicians and other donors connected to medical fields." Since being elected in 2003, Boustany has raised more than $1.8 million from health care professionals, says Alford. Meanwhile, Fleming has received $765,000 from the industry over the course of his congressional career and Cassidy has scooped up $1.3 million, Alford says, noting both were elected in 2007. "If there's a concern with this trend it's influence," Alford writes. "The health care industry is booming in Louisiana, and as a policy topic it's among the most important on the Hill. Political action committees representing health care professionals have given Louisiana's elected physicians in D.C. more than $1.7 million over the past 11 years." 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.)

Jindal to release comprehensive energy plan today

Gov. Bobby Jindal will today unveil a comprehensive energy plan during an address in Washington, D.C., to conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. The Wall Street Journal reports "the proposal includes familiar measures likely to rally Republicans, such as approving the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as a few ideas that haven't been as widely embraced by his party, including a call to lift the ban on American oil exports." By releasing these policy prescriptions before the next White House race officially begins, the newspaper says, Jindal is presenting himself as a candidate well-versed in public policy, noting the governor in April released what many considered to be the first policy paper of the 2016 race when he issued his guidelines for replacing the Affordable Care Act. "At this very early stage, voters don't seem to be paying much attention," The Wall Street Journal reports. "Jindal is last among 10 Republicans regularly included in polls of the prospective GOP field, averaging less than 3%, according to a tally by the nonpartisan website Real Clear Politics." The report was co-written with Texas Rep. Bill Flores, a former executive in the oil and gas industry, and is being released by Jindal's tax-exempt, nonprofit group America Next. Check out an executive summary of Jindal's energy proposal, or see the complete proposal. Read the full story (subscription may be required).

National education assessment says La. lagging rest of US

Louisiana hasn't made much progress in the past seven years in a national assessment of educational achievement. As Gannett Louisiana reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in its recently released "Leaders and Laggards" report, ranks Louisiana as the second-worst laggard—placing it at the bottom of all 50 states but ahead of the District of Columbia. Louisiana has grades of F in 5 of 11 categories. "Student performance in Louisiana is very weak; the state ranks among the lowest in the nation," the report says. The most damning are Fs in academic achievement and academic achievement for low-income and minority students in its 2014 report. The state received a D for its efforts to improve overall academic achievement in 2007 and a B for its efforts to improve academic achievement for low-income and minority students. The academic scores are based on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized exam administered across the nation on which Louisiana students traditionally perform poorly. The study used 2011 results. Superintendent of Education John White says Louisiana has always had an F in academic performance in the Chamber's assessment but although the scores are bad, he's encouraged that the study recognized that the state is making sincere efforts to improve performance of low-income students. "It's positive in that it identifies us as making some of the top gains toward improving low-income students," White says. The best grades the state got were an A in parental options and Bs in 21st Century teaching force and data quality. The state got a B-minus in technology, a C in fiscal responsibility and a D-plus in truth in advertising: student proficiency. Read the full story.

Mexico's interest in US oil could crack open export door

U.S. oil producers anxious to export booming supplies of domestic crude may have another way around a ban in place since 1975, this one via Mexico. As Bloomberg reports, Mexico's state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, has expressed interest in importing some of the lighter oil the U.S. has in abundance, swapping it for heavier Mexican oil that U.S. refineries are able to process. If approved by the U.S. Commerce Department, it would be another exemption permitted by President Barack Obama's administration, which this year let two oil producers sell a lightly processed form of crude overseas. The drive to skirt the 39-year-old ban underscores a transformation as new drilling techniques have taken the U.S. from depending on oil imports to producing so much crude that Congress is debating an end to the prohibition. Legislation hasn't advanced, though producers have found ways of circumventing the ban to reach overseas markets. "There is no appetite for lifting the export restrictions wholesale, but perhaps greater willingness to allow incremental exports under the current rules," Jacob Dweck, a lawyer at Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP, which represents companies seeking to end the ban, tells Bloomberg. The Obama administration could grant Pemex's request under an exemption that permits so-called swaps or other exchanges. In such a deal, the U.S. could trade the light sweet crude oil for a heavier oil from Mexico that refineries in Texas and Louisiana are set up to process. No action is needed by Congress. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: Do you think the U.S. should lift its 39-year-old ban on oil exports?

American CEOs less optimistic about hiring, spending

Optimism among chief executives at the largest U.S. companies fell in the July-September quarter after reaching a two-year high in the previous quarter. The Business Roundtable says that its CEO outlook index fell to 86.4 in the third quarter, down from 95.4 in the April-June period. The quarterly survey of 135 CEOs shows fewer of them expect to hire in the next six months: Just 34% plan to add jobs, down from 43% during the quarter previous. And only 39% plan to boost their capital spending, down from 44%. Nearly three-quarters of the chief executives expect higher sales, the same as in the second quarter. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who's also chairman of the Business Roundtable, blames the decline of the index on Congress' failure to extend temporary tax breaks that encourage research and development and investment spending. "The U.S. economy continues to perform below its potential," Stephenson says in a prepared release. "While there are a number of economic issues facing our country, growth remains the top priority. We believe Congress and the Administration must focus on policies that drive economic growth, including tax reform, immigration reform, trade expansion and long-term fiscal stability." In the latest survey, the CEOs expect 2014 gross domestic product growth of 2.4%, roughly the same as last quarter's estimate of 2.3%. See the complete survey results.

News roundup: OLOL gets WellSpots designation by state … New insurance website up for state workers, retirees … Hearing scheduled today in lawsuit against Edmonson pension hike

Well planned: Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and Our Lady of the Lake College are now designated WellSpots by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the hospital announced this morning. State officials in April launched the WellSpots initiative, which designates businesses and organizations that have implemented voluntary changes to make healthy living easier for Louisiana citizens. In order to become a WellSpot, organizations must meet specific criteria. Benchmarks include having a tobacco-free environment, demonstrated efforts to promote and provide a healthy workplace, and more. OLOL has more details on its designation.

Big decisions: A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is reworking the insurance plans that cover 230,000 people through the Office of Group Benefits. The Associated Press reports that in recent months the insurance program has been spending more each month than it is taking in, and the changes are part of an effort to help stabilize program finances. Analysts say the changes will result in increased out-of-pocket costs and higher deductibles. The Division of Administration has more details.

Under review: A state district judge is deciding today whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent. The Associated Press reports State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, filed a lawsuit challenging the pension change that gave enhanced benefits to Col. Mike Edmonson and a 32-year trooper in Houma. Claitor's lawsuit says the change was unconstitutional because it wasn't properly passed by lawmakers. No one appears to be willing to defend the law, so an injunction appears likely. Today's hearing is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Read the full story.

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