Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Mon, March 19, 2012

5th Circuit says Stanford victims can sue in state court

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals says U.S. investors who lost money in the Stanford Group debacle can file suit in state court against entities they claim enabled what the court is calling the "Stanford Ponzi scheme." The ruling is significant, local attorney Phil Preis says, because state law only requires that plaintiffs prove negligence, not outright fraud, on the part of those entities. Preis estimates U.S. investors lost about $1 billion in the scheme, and says the Fifth Circuit decision makes it more likely that those people will be made whole. Only about $300 million remains of R. Allen Stanford's crumbled empire after expenses, Preis says. Preis filed the original class action suit in Baton Rouge's 19th Judicial District against the Stanford Trust, trust administrator SEI, a major international firm, and the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions. Defendants were able to move the suit to federal court, but the Fifth Circuit today remanded the suit back to Baton Rouge. Preis expects to meet with Judge R. Michael Caldwell during the next six weeks to set a new schedule for the suit. "All those big companies like SEI that supported Stanford," Preis says, "we have a very viable claim against them. This [decision] is the biggest deal that has happened in the three years I've been working on the litigation." You can check out the complete court ruling here. —David Jacobs

Capitol Views by Maginnis: Democrats spar with Jindal's men

The education debate at the State Capitol moved outside earlier today when leading Democrats and aides to Gov. Bobby Jindal sparred in back-to-back news conferences. "This is a big-government, top-down, Baton Rouge-based takeover of local schools," railed Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, who questioned the constitutionality of using Minimum Foundation Program funds for private school tuition. As he spoke in the East Garden of the Capitol, Superintendent of Education John White and Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret looked on along with the governor's political consultant Timmy Teepell. Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, head of the Legislative Black Caucus, questioned if race was the reason why children in "C"-rated schools—who are mostly white—are eligible for vouchers along with those in "D" and "F" schools, who are predominantly black. When they finished, Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, took the mike to say that opponents of the governor's agenda had been asked for their solutions. "The silence was deafening," he said. "Their complaints are about the process, and they have nothing to improve education." White rejoined that local tax dollars are not used for scholarships. The state does not send the local share of MFP dollars to local districts, he said, but those do not have the expense of educating students receiving private-school scholarships.

(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.

Executive Spotlight: Carolyn McKnight

Carolyn McKnight took over as superintendent of BREC, East Baton Rouge Parish's parks and recreation authority, on Jan. 30. McKnight comes to the job with 27 years of parks administrative experience, having spent much of her professional life with the Dallas Park and Recreation Department. The former Air Force second lieutenant says she wants to make BREC the parish's "leisure service provider of first choice," and that she's actively looking for ideas, resources and strategic partnerships to reach that goal. Read the full Q&A with McKnight here. Here's a sample:
Are there better potential uses for the land that currently hosts some of the lesser-used BREC golf courses?
"BREC is currently evaluating the potential opportunities for golf courses with low attendance. We will examine the feasibility of creating partnerships with other public and private sources to determine ways to maximize revenues not currently considered. We will work closely with our junior golf 'First Tee' program initiative to expand play on some of the challenged courses."

White: Education bill allows transfers across parish lines

An education reform bill backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal giving low-income parents greater flexibility over where to send their children to school would mean students could use state-funded vouchers to attend schools outside of the parish they live in. That's according to Superintendent of Education John White, who spoke today to the Baton Rouge Press Club. "If a school opts in and says 'We have seats available,' it is the option of the local school district to make seats available, and that would include kids from other parishes," he says. White's comments were the first to shed light on some of the logistics of the school-choice legislation, which is one of the fundamental tenets of the governor's education reform package and also one of the more controversial.
So far, the plan has been sketchy on details, such as how many schools could reasonably be expected to participate and how many students could be accommodated. White acknowledged as much, saying, "We're waiting for the laws to be passed. Until then, we don't have specific numbers." He adds that 335 non-public schools are currently eligible for the program and that, based on similar bills that have passed in other states, between 3,000 and 4,000 students could be expected to participate in the first year. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story here.

'Business Report' planner: Business Awards & Hall of Fame on Tuesday … Social media association meets Thursday … Top 100 Tiger businesses honored by LSU Friday

Tuesday — The 29th annual Business Awards & Hall of Fame banquet, presented by Business Report and Junior Achievement, will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4728 Constitution Ave. Sponsors are Franklin Data Empowered Direct Mail and Capital One Bank. The 2012 honorees, as selected by a community panel, are: Richard Lipsey and Brace Godfrey Jr., Hall of Fame inductees; Art Favre of Performance Contractors, Businessperson of the Year; Stafford Kendall of Covalent Logic, Young Businessperson of the Year; The Newtron Group, Company of the Year (100 or more employees); and ShoppersChoice.com, Company of the Year (less than 100 employees).

Thursday — BRSocMe, or the Baton Rouge Social Media Association, holds its monthly meeting at noon at the Louisiana Technology Park, 7117 Florida Blvd. Robin Schooling, vice president of human resources at the Louisiana Lottery Corp., is guest speaker. Lunch will be provided and is free for professional level members, $5 for nonmembers.

Friday — LSU and the Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute will honor those included on the second list of the LSU 100: Fastest Growing Tiger Businesses, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at a Renaissance Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd. The LSU 100 celebrates the success of former LSU students and recognizes the impact they've had on the local, regional and national economies. See this year's complete list of honorees here. Full ticket details and online registration are available here.

For the full list of upcoming events, click here.

Majority of La. voters want expanded voucher program, survey says

Roughly six of every 10 Louisiana voters support an expansion of the state's school voucher program—with support as high as 67% in some New Orleans area parishes—according to a new poll released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. The statewide poll, commissioned by the Friedman Foundation, found that 63% of Louisiana voters support school vouchers to give parents an option other than their local public school. "Voters in the Bayou State give high marks to school choice and want more kids to have school choice," says Friedman Foundation President/CEO Robert Enlow in a prepared statement. "This poll clearly demonstrates that vouchers are in demand and Louisiana voters support it." Braun Research conducted the poll over eight days in late February with more than 1,100 voters. Locally, the survey found 57% of East Baton Rouge Parish voters said they support an expansion of the voucher program. In Livingston Parish, 53% said the same. Education reform, including an expansion of the voucher program piloted in New Orleans, is being debated in the legislative session that kicked off last week. You can get more details on the survey and download it here.

News roundup: SeNSE announces film biz pitch-night participants … La. union membership increased in 2011 … World's top wheelchair tennis players B.R. bound … It's official: Manning's a Bronco

Here's the pitch: Panelists to judge Thursday's Film Industry Pitch Night will be Jacky Lee Morgan of Cineworks, Amy Mitchell Smith of Cinega Motion Picture Group and Daniel Lewis with Active Entertainment. They'll be judging pitches from ZombiePlantation, Falling on Love and Three Loud Knocks. The event will be from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Manship Theatre. Each entrepreneur will get 10 minutes to pitch their business idea to the panel in front of a live audience. The event is free, but tickets are required and can be reserved here.

Paying dues: The number of Louisiana workers belonging to a union increased by 1,000 in 2011, to 77,000, compared to the year prior. That's according to a new report out today from the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 4.5% of all Louisiana workers belong to a union—far below the 11.8% U.S. average, the report says. Nationally, union membership rose 49,000 last year to roughly 14.8 million. You can see the full five-page report on Louisiana union membership here.

Rolling on the river: Thirty-one of the world's top wheelchair tennis players will compete in Baton Rouge this week for world-ranking points and thousands of dollars in prize money at the 23rd annual Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, Wednesday through Sunday. Admission to all tournament events is free. Most matches will be held at the Paula G. Manship YMCA Lamar Tennis Center, 8100 YMCA Plaza Dr., while some will be at BREC's Highland Road Community Park, 14024 Highland Road. Get more details at the tournament website here.

From horseshoe to horse: Peyton Manning will become the next quarterback of the Denver Broncos, ESPN.com reports, barring a snag during intensified contract negotiations that have commenced under the instruction of the four-time MVP to his agent Tom Condon, according to multiple sources. Manning called Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway this morning to tell him the news. Manning also called the San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans to inform them of his intent to now play for Denver. Once the Manning deal becomes official, Denver will try to trade Tim Tebow, sources say. Manning instructed Condon to negotiate the details of a contract that would conclude with him joining the Broncos after a frenzied but focused process that began when the Indianapolis Colts released him March 7. Read the full story here.

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