Costco buying B.R. property
Costco Wholesale Corp., the largest warehouse club chain in the United States, has signed a purchase agreement to acquire the former Coca-Cola bottling site on Airline Highway. The company signed a memorandum of agreement with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Gulf Coast LLC late last month to acquire the 28-acre site, which is adjacent to Celtic Studios. Mark Hebert of Kurz & Hebert Commercial Real Estate, the listing agent on the property, confirms a purchase agreement has been inked but declines to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement. The property had been listed for $15 million, but no purchase price was disclosed. Officials with Costco and Coke also decline to comment. Though no details are available on what Costco plans for the property or when a sale might be finalized, the company has just made its first move into the Louisiana market. Plans were recently announced for a 148,000-square-foot store in the Carrollton section of New Orleans. That facility will employ some 200 workers and has a target completion date of 2013. The Airline Highway property under contract in Baton Rouge has been on the market since Coca-Cola relocated to its current bottling facility on Plank Road in January 2009. —Stephanie Riegel
News alert: Woman's selling campus to physicians group
Woman's Hospital has announced it has reached an agreement with a private group called The Physicians Alliance Corp. to sell the 24-acre campus being vacated at Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway. The sale will include the hospital building, medical office building, support services building, materials management building, parking garage and all surface parking. No purchase price was disclosed. Read Daily Report PM for additional details.
News alert: Costco buying B.R. property
Costco Wholesale Corp., the largest warehouse club chain in the United States, has signed a purchase agreement to acquire the former Coca-Cola bottling site on Airline Highway. The company signed a memorandum of agreement with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United Gulf Coast late last month to acquire the 28-acre site, which is adjacent to Celtic Studios. Mark Hebert of Kurz & Hebert Commercial Real Estate, the listing agent on the property, confirms a purchase agreement has been inked but declines to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement. Officials with Costco and Coke also decline to comment. Read Daily Report PM for additional details.
Women in Business honorees announced; luncheon tickets available
The 10 women included in Business Report
's Influential Women in Business class of 2012 help drive the health care, banking, economic development, legal, government and nonprofit sectors in the Capital Region. The honorees, announced this morning, are:
• Barbara Auten, Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area
• Shelly Dick, attorney
• Kay Goodwyn, president & CEO, Roco Rescue
• Jamie Haeuser, senior vice president of operations, Woman's Hospital
• JoEllen Kearny, CPA/Financial adviser, Daigrepont & Brian
• Dee LeJeune, CEO, St. Elizabeth Hospital
• Janet Olson, Relationship manager, Capital One Bank
• Christy Reeves, director of community relations, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana
• Erin Monroe Wesley, senior vice president of governmental affairs, Baton Rouge Area Chamber
• Monica Zumo, managing partner, Hannis T. BourgeoisEach of the honorees is profiled in the issue of Business Report
hitting newsstands today. All will be recognized at the 2012 Influential Women in Business Awards luncheon, set for Tuesday, June 5, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The luncheon will feature internationally recognized speaker and author Lisa Johnson, who helps organizations accelerate growth by applying the latest techniques in storytelling to common business challenges including leadership, sales, innovation and marketing communications. Tickets for the luncheon are $40 each—with tables of 10 available for $400—and they can be purchased online here
through Thursday at noon. After that, tickets can be purchased by calling 928-1700.
Woman's selling campus to physicians group
Woman's Hospital announced today it has reached an agreement with a private group called The Physicians Alliance Corp. to sell the 24-acre campus being vacated at Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway. Included in the sale is the 300-bed hospital building, 140,000-square-foot medical office building, 20,500-square-foot support services building, materials management building, and more than 700 parking spaces between the parking garage and paved lots. No purchase price was disclosed. The property had been listed for $19 million. The sale, which is being handled by Beau Box Commercial Realty and One Source Commercial, is still subject to the completion of due diligence. The deal is expected to close on July 11. The buyer, TPAC, is described in a news release as "a private, mostly physician-owned organization working to improve healthcare delivery systems for the benefit of patients and providers." The group consists of more than 3,000 physician providers, some of whom are shareholders. It's not clear exactly what services will be offered by TPAC or if the physicians will be primarily from Baton Rouge or out of the area. The registered agent with the Louisiana Secretary of State for its affiliated company, TPAC Holding LLC, is Baton Rouge Dr. Kenneth Cranor, who could not be reached this afternoon for further comment. "TPAC functions like an interactive, multispecialty medical clinic, with our members located in their own separate offices," says Glen Duncan, spokesman for the company, in a news release. Duncan says the focus of the facility will be "excellent health care," noting OB/GYN, newborn, and breast-care services will not be offered at the site.
B.R. political consultant named a 'Rising Star'
Bradley Beychok, a 30-year-old Democrat from Baton Rouge and campaign director for American Bridge 21st Century, is among 30 young political consultants across the United States included in Campaigns & Elections
magazine's list of "2012 Rising Stars" in the industry. The magazine notes Beychok worked as a finance director on former Rep. Charlie Melancon's first House race and later served as Melancon's campaign manager. In 2008, he served as coordinated campaign director for Sen. Mary Landrieu, and then rejoined Melancon's team to manage his challenge of Sen. David Vitter in 2010. It was a hotly contested race, but one that Melancon ultimately lost. Beychok tells Campaigns & Elections
, "It was one of those campaigns that you wake up saying, 'I want to swing as hard as I can.' " Fast-forward to 2012, and Beychok is at the helm of American Bridge, a progressive Super PAC employing over 50 people. "I certainly owe a great deal of my path in politics to James [Carville]," says Beychok, who interned for Carville in his early years. Carville, meanwhile, praises Beychok's willingness to take on challenges. "Bradley learned the hard way," he says. "[He's] quickly worked his way from my intern to one of the most sought-after operatives in Washington, D.C." Check out the full feature for more on Beychok and the rest of those included on this year's "Rising Stars" list here
Bernhard and Crawford Lewis reach $1.5M settlement
James "Tres" Bernhard has reached a partial settlement with the law firm Crawford Lewis, which last month filed a lawsuit against him for fraud, theft, forgery and malpractice over the alleged sale of bogus movie industry tax credits. The $1.5 million settlement will go to five unnamed investors, who thought they were purchasing from Bernhard legitimate tax credits that could be used against their state tax bills this year. "The whole transaction was a forgery," says Mary Olive Pierson, who represents Crawford Lewis. "These five investors had purchased [the credits] for use on May 15. That's why it was very important for us to refund their money." Bernhard, son of The Shaw Group's founder and chairman, Jim Bernhard, paid for the settlement with money from his trust fund, Pierson says. "I don't know what the name of the trust is or who the trustees are," she says. Bernhard permanently surrendered his law license earlier this month in lieu of disciplinary action from the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel. His attorneys have declined to comment. But Pierson says the case is far from over. Her client still has several outstanding issues to resolve with Bernhard, who allegedly sold bogus movie tax credits and pocketed proceeds from the sale of legitimate credits that did not belong to him. Says Pierson of the developments: "It's very positive. He seems to be cooperating and trying to resolve some of the problems." —Stephanie Riegel
B.R. gas prices 30 cents lower than national average
The average price of a gallon of regular, unleaded gas fell by 7.3 cents in Baton Rouge over the past week, and was averaging $3.35 as of Memorial Day—30 cents lower than the national average of $3.65—according to BatonRougeGasPrices.com, a subsidiary of GasBuddy.com, which tracks average prices at cities throughout the country. The drop also brought local prices 28.9 cents lower than they were a year ago and 30.6 cents lower than a month ago. The national average dropped 15.7 cents over the past month and is down 13.4 cents compared to a year ago. The price peak for national average gas prices occurred sooner than GasBuddy.com predicted in January, happening on April 5 at $3.92 per gallon, rather than between $3.75 and $4.15. According to the website, some of the lowest gas prices in the Baton Rouge area are between $3.21 and $3.27 per gallon, while some of the highest are between $3.49 and $3.84 per gallon. Check out the website here
for station-by-station specifics.
Capitol Views by Maginnis: Kennedy budget plan buried by Senate panel
The final full week of the legislative session, which budgetary issues will dominate, started today with the aggressive cost-cutting plan of Treasurer John Kennedy being stopped cold in Senate Finance Committee. Kennedy presented bills by Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, to reduce the number of state contracts by 10% and to eliminate 5,000 jobs per year in state government. "I think you could save a lot of money if you got rid of some of these contracts," he said, and then read through a list including counseling for breastfeeding, spiritual advisers for Muslim inmates, fur marketing in China, and "chimpanzee discovery days," before Chairman Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, advised, "I think we have the picture." Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater argued that contracts are vetted during the budget process and that the administration has reduced their value by $1.4 billion, or 30%, since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office. He cautioned that the blanket 10% cut included in House Bill 327 would cripple Bayou Health, the new coordinated care network. Many contracts, he said, result from pass-through federal funding requirements. Kennedy countered that the reductions can be made without affecting Bayou Health. But the committee, without objection, approved a motion by Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, to involuntarily defer the bill. The same went for Richard's HB 328, to cut state positions through attrition, which had passed the House, 94-5. Read the full column here
for more coverage of today's action at the Capitol.(John Maginnis will publish a daily update throughout the legislative session on
Daily Report PM. The report is also available to
LaPolitics Weekly subscribers on the Subscribers Only page 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
BRAC, Southern alumni partner on talent development program
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Southern University Alumni Federation today announced that they've agreed to a memorandum of understanding to promote BRAC's talent development program among SU alumni. Under the agreement, BRAC will partner with the alumni federation at chapter events to promote the region and employment activities within it. In turn, BRAC will work to identify career opportunities for out-of-region SU graduates and provide the résumés of alumni members interested in returning to the Baton Rouge area to work at companies with open positions. The goal of the partnership is to grow the number of résumés included in BRAC's talent database. BRAC signed a similar agreement with the LSU Alumni Association earlier this month. BRAC is currently building an online talent database that can be accessed when regional companies are searching for candidates for hard-to-fill positions. Those interested in being included in the database can find more information at BRAC's website here
. The talent development program is a core initiative of BRAC's five-year strategic plan called The Creative Capital Agenda.
'Business Report' planner: Southern hosts 'Understanding Quickbooks' seminar Wednesday … LTC's eWards Luncheon is Thursday … Influential Women in Business Awards luncheon on the horizon
— Southern University's College of Business will hold a free "Understanding Quickbooks" seminar from 10 a.m. to noon at the Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd., to teach the basic uses and features of QuickBooks, including creating invoices, writing checks, managing customers, and more. Guest speaker Waree Dorsey-Waits, an accountant and University of Phoenix instructor, will discuss the advantages of using QuickBooks in performing accounting tasks. More information and online registration are available here
— The Louisiana Technology Council presents its 2012 eWards Luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, 201 Lafayette St. Tickets are $50. Online registration and more information are available here
— Business Report
's 2012 Influential Women in Business Awards luncheon will take place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. The luncheon will feature internationally recognized speaker and author Lisa Johnson, who helps organizations accelerate growth by applying the latest techniques in storytelling to common business challenges, including leadership, sales, innovation and marketing communications. Tickets for the luncheon are $40 each—with tables of 10 available for $400—and they can be purchased online here
through Thursday at noon. After that, tickets can be purchased by calling 928-1700.
For the full list of upcoming events, click here
Lawmakers aim to address lead hazards with legislation
Three bills focused on identifying lead contamination in playgrounds, day care centers and schools have been making their way through the Legislature following studies that show hazardous lead levels have been found in several New Orleans parks. The proposals, near final passage, would require new day care facilities, preschools and certain elementary schools to be inspected for possible lead contamination. Agencies engaged in lead-reduction work would be required to inform the public of federal standards for allowable amounts of lead in online posts. Results of inspections also would be posted online. New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell says he hopes the legislation will launch a sustained effort to address high levels of lead. A recent Tulane University study found 61% of New Orleans homes tested in a random sample showed lead levels surpassing federal standards.
Maginnis: Jindal pretty slick with his oil politics
Since its difficulties with Huey Long, Big Oil has sought to develop warm relations with Louisiana governors—and vice versa, if they knew what was good for them. In order to advance nationally within the Republican Party, whose last national convention erupted into chants of "Drill, Baby, Drill," contenders must at least be acceptable to the energy industry. To the broader electorate, however, Gov. Bobby Jindal, as an oil-state governor under consideration for the GOP vice presidential nomination, can't afford to be seen as an industry toady. Early in his first term, the governor and the oil companies got along swimmingly, as an industry journal praised his administration's "improved" permitting process. The state's boom in exploration, from the Outer Continental Shelf to the Haynesville Shale, led to economic development that he could share credit for, despite the national recession. Then came BP. The massive oil spill that ravaged the Gulf, the coast and its economy offered Jindal a golden opportunity: to whip up on an oil company, with the state and the nation cheering him on. He also lashed out at the response of the Obama administration, through which he restored his GOP star quality, which he had damaged in his national speaking debut the year before. Yet, while singling out BP, the governor championed the industry as a whole by leading the protest of the exploration moratorium imposed by the president, thus supporting the GOP's job-killer line of attack against President Barack Obama. Read the full column here
.(John Maginnis publishes
LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)
Home prices rise in most major U.S. cities
Home prices rose in March from February in most major U.S. cities for the first time in seven months. The increase is the latest evidence of a slow recovery taking shape in the housing market. The latest Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index released today shows that prices rose in 12 of the 20 cities it tracks. Three of the weakest markets showed signs of improvement: Prices rose in Tampa and Miami; they were unchanged in Las Vegas. The biggest month-to-month increases occurred in Phoenix, Seattle and Dallas. Prices dropped the most in Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta. Rising prices in most cities add to other encouraging signs of a housing rebound. Sales are up, mortgage rates are at historic lows, builders are more confident, and the economy is adding jobs. Still, even though 12 of 20 cities showed gains, the weaker cities weighed on Case-Shiller's overall price index in March. The index edged down to its lowest level since the housing bubble burst. At the same time, price declines have slowed, and a majority of markets are rising. "This is relatively good news," says David Blitzer, chairman of S&P's index committee. "We just need to see it happen in more of the cities and for many months in a row." In part, the increases reflect the start of the spring selling season. The month-to-month prices aren't adjusted for seasonal factors. The S&P/Case-Shiller monthly index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. See all the index figures in the complete story from The Associated Press here
'225' launches new website
magazine invites you to join in a conversation. With the goal of creating a more engaging and relevant community gathering place, 225
is proud to announce the launch of its brand-new website today. Beyond the fresh look and ease of navigation the site affords, 225
's new online home features a number of significant improvements for users to enjoy. Streamlined comments sections and a new multimedia uploading tool allow users to converse with 225
staff and other readers, as well as easily upload content to our site. If readers attend an event or dine at a restaurant the magazine writes about, submitting their personal photos or videos from that event or restaurant is now a snap. In addition, we have re-branded our free weekly events e-newsletter, released each Wednesday, as 225 Weekender
. With updated staff picks for the week and our community calendar, 225
is the best resource for filling your social schedule with excitement. Our restaurant directory is also updated and easier to navigate, and we continue to produce the free weekly e-newsletter 225 Dine
each Thursday, featuring the latest culinary news and reviews from around the city. In addition to being Baton Rouge's guide for what to do and where to eat, 225
aims to stir community conversation on the news stories, people and local issues that are most important to the magazine's readers. 225
's new site features an expanded roster of bloggers who are discussing a range of topics from politics, food and fitness, to arts, movies, music, television, smart growth and development, startups and other business news. Check them out and add your voice to the conversation. It's all at the new website here
News roundup: Ruston school gets 315 state vouchers, needs more room … Women's jokes fall flat at work, report finds … Consumer confidence plunges in May
Supply and demand:
A church-affiliated school in north Louisiana has been approved to accept 315 students as part of the state's scholarship program, but the school doesn't currently have the facilities or teachers to accommodate that many students. New Living Word School in Ruston had 122 students last year. The Rev. Jerry Baldwin, the school's principal and church pastor, tells The (Monroe) News-Star
that students have been meeting in rooms that serve as the church's Sunday School classrooms. He says the school will break ground this summer for a metal building that will contain 16 classrooms, and that the new students can meet in the church gym if the new building isn't finished in time. If New Living Word meets its goal of 315 new students, it would receive almost $2.7 million in Minimum Foundation Program money for those new students. Read the full story here
.Something funny going on:
Jokes made by female senior professionals in the office are often perceived as "contrived, defensive, or just mean," says a new report by linguistics expert Judith Baxter, head of English at Aston University's School of Language & Social Sciences in the United Kingdom. As the San Francisco Chronicle
reports, Baxter conducted her research at seven large companies and examined 14 team meetings, of which half were led by senior-level men and half by senior-level women. Women often resort to self-deprecating humor, with 70% of female senior professionals joking about themselves in a somewhat negative light, Baxter's research found. Still, this didn't seem to earn chuckles: More than 80% of women's jokes were met with silence. Meanwhile, 90% of jokes made by men were greeted with immediate laughter or approval. As a result, men were three times more likely to joke while leading a meeting. Read the full story for more report findings here
.That sinking feeling:
Americans' confidence in the economy in May had its biggest drop in eight months, as consumers fretted about slow hiring, a big stock market drop and the global economy, says a private research group. The Conference Board says its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 64.9, down from a revised 68.7 in April. It was the biggest drop since October 2011. Economists were expecting a reading of 70, according to a FactSet poll of analysts. The current level is below February's 71.6, which remains the highest level it has reached in a year. Consumer confidence is widely watched because consumer spending accounts for 70% of economic activity. The current measure is significantly below the 90 reading that indicates a healthy economy; however, it's well above the 40 registered last October, not to mention the all-time low of 25.3 hit in February 2009.Today's poll question:
Are you more confident about the U.S. economy today than you were at the start of the year?
'Real Estate Weekly': Testing FuturEBR
After nearly five years on the market, the 2.9-acre tract of vacant land at the intersection of Kenilworth Parkway and Perkins Road was set to change hands this month, and realtor Ty Gose thought he had a good deal in the works. A group of buyers had signed a purchase agreement for the parcel and had hopes of developing an office park there. Two weeks before closing, however, Gose got word from the Department of Public Works that it wouldn't issue permits to build on the property because the land is identified as the site of a future cut-through street that would provide access directly from Perkins to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. The city's new land-use plan, FuturEBR, also identifies the site as a potential "connecting corridor," and goes so far as to suggest it could eventually link Kenilworth all the way to Corporate Boulevard. Gose is hoping to change the minds of city-parish leaders and prevent them from effectively killing his deal. After all, he says, whatever the city's land-use plans call for on paper, to suggest Kenilworth should be extended straight through some of the mansions on Moss Side Lane is a little incredible. "I'm just trying to get in front of decision makers and get them to take a level-headed view of this right of way," he says. Read the full story by Editor Stephanie Riegel in the current issue of Business Report here
; and check out the complete Real Estate Weekly
News roundup: La. wins waiver from No Child Left Behind … 4 companies to pay $5M in FEMA trailer settlement … Judge eases ex-BP engineer's travel limits
Alternate plan approved:
Louisiana has been granted a waiver from the hard-to-reach federal goals of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. That law requires that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The waivers granted to Louisiana and eight other states on Tuesday allow them to fall short of that requirement without losing federal funds—provided they offer a viable alternative plan. Louisiana education officials say they submitted a multifaceted application including references to the state school accountability plan that factors in performance on the ACT college preparation exam and other tests. Reacting to the federal approval today, state officials say policies outlined in the waiver request are designed to ensure all students are on track for a college degree or a professional career. The state Department of Education says the approved waiver application will provide superintendents and principals similar levels of autonomy over the use of $375 million in federal funding, dollars historically tied up in government mandates and regulations.Pay day:
Four FEMA contractors that installed or maintained government-issued trailers for storm victims after Hurricane Katrina have agreed to pay a total of $5 million to resolve claims that the temporary shelters exposed Gulf Coast residents to hazardous fumes, according to court filings today. The documents don't disclose how much would be individually paid by Shaw Environmental Inc., Bechtel Corp., Fluor Enterprises Inc., CH2M Hill Constructors Inc., and the companies' respective insurers. The deal is linked to a larger class-action settlement agreement between plaintiffs' attorneys and several companies that manufactured travel trailers for the Federal Emergency Management Agency that were used following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The proposed settlement with the trailer makers was expanded late Monday to include claims against Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Forest River Inc., Jayco Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp. Financial terms of that part of the deal haven't been disclosed. The Associated Press has more on this story here
.Free to roam:
A federal magistrate has agreed to ease the travel restrictions he imposed on a former BP engineer charged with deleting text messages about the company's response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Magistrate Daniel Knowles III ruled today that 50-year-old Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, can travel throughout the continental United States while he is free on bond, provided he reports his travel plans to pretrial services officers. Knowles had ruled earlier this month that Mix must limit his travel to Louisiana, Texas, Massachusetts and New York. Mix worked on BP's efforts to stop the leak from its blown-out Macondo well. Prosecutors claim he deleted text messages to a supervisor and a contractor to prevent them from being used in a federal grand jury probe.
Capitol Views: Kennedy budget plan buried by Senate panel; committee clips debit card refund bill; welfare drug-testing bill faces tough test
The final full week of the legislative session, which budgetary issues will dominate, started today with the aggressive cost-cutting plan of Treasurer John Kennedy being stopped cold in Senate Finance Committee.Kennedy presented bills by Rep. Dee Richard, I-Thibodaux, to reduce the number of state contracts by 10% and to eliminate 5,000 jobs per year in state government."I think you could save a lot of money if you got rid of some of these contracts," he said, and then read through a list including counseling for breastfeeding, spiritual advisers for Muslim inmates, fur marketing in China, and "chimpanzee discovery days," before chairman Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, advised, "I think we have the picture."Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater argued that contracts are vetted during the budget process and that the administration has reduced their value by $1.4 billion, or 30%, since Gov. Bobby Jindal took office. He cautioned that the blanket 10% cut included in House Bill 327 would cripple Bayou Health, the new coordinated care network. Many contracts, he said, result from pass-through federal funding requirements.Kennedy countered that the reductions can be made without affecting Bayou Health. But the committee, without objection, approved a motion by Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, to involuntarily defer the bill.The same went for Richard's HB 328, to cut state positions through attrition, which had passed the House, 94-5. Kennedy acknowledged that the administration had cut 12,000 job positions since its first term, but that the cost of payroll had increased. He said the job reductions could be made by not filling one-third of positions that become vacant, and that it need not affect any "warm bodies."But Sen. Tarver, who owns a funeral home, noted, "You talk about warm bodies. I'm in the business of cold bodies," and then made one of HB 328 by moving to defer. No one objected.It was a rough start to the week for Kennedy in Senate Finance, which, the day before, excised $553,000 from his budget in what observers saw as payback for his criticizing the administration's spending practices.—Had it not been Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, on a tear about the Department of Revenue going to debit cards for income tax refunds, his bill to reinclude the option of paper checks likely would not have gone far.But with Fannin raising examples of constituents—and even fellow lawmakers—having difficulty transferring funds from the cards to their bank accounts, his bill cruised through the House and one Senate committee. Ultimately, the Department of Revenue, citing a fiscal note of $250,000 to implement the option, had Senate allies recommit to Senate Finance.There, Chairman Sen. Jack Donahue offered an amendment to sunset the debit-card program in three years, to which Fannin assented while pledging to continue to monitor the program in his committee. Taxpayers can also receive their refunds by direct deposit.—The controversial bill to drug-test welfare recipients must clear a high hurdle today before a likely skeptical Judiciary B Committee. After a testy debate, HB 380 by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, passed the House, 65-26. The Senate panel it goes before later today has a 4-3 majority of Democrats—including its Chairman Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans—and is expected to oppose the measure.
Jindal pretty slick with his oil politics
Since its difficulties with Huey Long, Big Oil has sought to develop warm relations with Louisiana governors—and vice versa, if they knew what was good for them.In order to advance nationally within the Republican Party, whose last national convention erupted into chants of "Drill, Baby, Drill," contenders must at least be acceptable to the energy industry. To the broader electorate, however, Gov. Bobby Jindal, as an oil-state governor under consideration for the GOP vice presidential nomination, can't afford to be seen as an industry toady.Early in his first term, the governor and the oil companies got along swimmingly, as an industry journal praised his administration's "improved" permitting process. The state's boom in exploration, from the Outer Continental Shelf to the Haynesville Shale, led to economic development that he could share credit for, despite the national recession.Then came BP. The massive oil spill that ravaged the Gulf, the coast and its economy offered Jindal a golden opportunity: to whip up on an oil company, with the state and the nation cheering him on. He also lashed out at the response of the Obama administration, through which he restored his GOP star quality, which he had damaged in his national speaking debut the year before.Yet, while singling out BP, the governor championed the industry as a whole by leading the protest of the exploration moratorium imposed by the president, thus supporting the GOP's job-killer line of attack against President Barack Obama.As a bonus, the governor was able to connect the state's legal claims against BP to a long-awaited, long-term plan for coastal restoration. Up for legislative approval is the administration's 50-year, $50 billion coastal plan, the most comprehensive and science-based to be written. Its principal funding pieces, covering up to half the cost, are expected Gulf spill fines and offshore revenue sharing, beginning in 2017, for which Sen. Mary Landrieu gets credit.Through his first term, Jindal struck a state and national profile an as overall defender of the industry while a lead critic of its worst actor, but also the man with the plan for the coast.All of which made the oil guys wonder why he would risk rupturing that relationship by his politics at the Legislature this spring. The companies looked to the governor to broker a favorable solution to their long-running legal battle with landowners and trial lawyers over oilfield pollution caused decades ago, when regulatory standards were lax to nonexistent. The legal actions are called "legacy lawsuits" for the chain of leases that plaintiffs' lawyers went back through to reach the deep-pocketed majors.The oil companies grew increasingly impatient and concerned that Jindal, through his negotiator Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle, would not fully back their position. They wanted a process for having the state submit remediation plans in court that would both get the sites cleaned up and limit the companies' exposure to broader damage claims made in cookie-cutter lawsuits filed throughout south Louisiana. It more than peeved oil executives that Jindal seemed sympathetic to his friends and major landowners Mike Foster and Roy O. Martin III, as well as small independent oil operators, who wanted to be let off the hook on damage claims. It further alarmed them that Jindal had collected $280,000 from trial lawyers in the last election cycle.Much of this would have gone unnoticed by the general population but for Sen. David Vitter, who jumped in four-square behind the oil companies and called out Jindal for not forging a deal. Failing to do so, charged Vitter, maintained the status quo of the "trial lawyer bonanza." Without saying so, he was putting Jindal's vice-presidential possibilities on the line by casting him as an ally of trial lawyers and a foe to industry.The matter dragged on until, suddenly, with state senators pressing for a resolution and with Jindal's assent, the agreement came together. The companies got what they wanted, the landowners and small operators got something; the trial lawyers got nothing.Had Jindal fallen in line early with the oil companies, he may have been labeled their lackey. Instead, he stuck with the local millionaires against the corporate billionaires, for a while, before making his deal and his peace with the petro giants. If anything, the resolution enhances his VP stock by having him appear as a friend but no tool of Big Oil.For whatever it gets him, one can best describe Jindal's oil politics as pretty slick.