Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Tue, July 29, 2014

Delgado hopeful 'fairness ordinance' could be put on December ballot

Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish could decide for themselves before the end of the year whether they want to pass the so-called fairness ordinance, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Metro Councilman John Delgado says if the council fails to pass the ordinance at its next regular meeting on Aug. 13 as expected, he will launch a petition drive to bring the measure to a vote of the people. Given that only 8,569 signatures are needed, he believes he could gather enough signatures in time for the December runoff election. "I think I could get that many signatures in a single weekend," he says. "There is such overwhelming support for this, and it's parishwide so anyone who lives in East Baton Rouge could sign." Delgado has already spoken with the registrar of voters, who told him it would take about one month to review and verify the signatures. The deadline to submit the signatures in time for the December runoff is mid-October, so Delgado plans to have them ready by mid-September. "It's no easy task gathering that many signatures," he says. "But it is a very real possibility given the amount of support, so it will be relatively easy." The council debated the controversial fairness ordinance for more than three hours on Wednesday evening last week, but ended up deferring the matter after Delgado filibustered in the final minutes of the meeting in order to prevent a vote that would have torpedoed the ordinance. —Stephanie Riegel

CityStats: EBR Library digital circulation up, paper circulation down

For the first time since 2010, total library circulation has increased. According to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's annual CityStats report, approximately 2,434,723 library items were checked out through the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system in 2013, up 4% from 2012 and a record high since 2007. However, the system's increase in digital circulation—digital downloads of books, music and videos—exceeds the increase in total circulation, showing that the number of paper materials being checked out is actually down. Digital circulation rose 34%—from 172,384 digital downloads in 2012 to 323,950 in 2013, or 13% of total circulation—possibly due to the library system's expansion of digital offerings to include 3M Cloud and OneClickDigital for e-books and e-audiobooks. However, those figures don't reflect the opening of the new $35 million, 126,000-square-foot Main Library on Goodwood, which opened earlier this year. The system continues to improve and expand, with plans to renovate the downtown branch—which are running slightly behind schedule—and to open a new south Baton Rouge branch library. Earlier this month, the library board signed two $10,000 contracts with SJB Group and CK Associates to help the board evaluate five potential sites for the branch. CityStats survey respondents gave the library system an average rating of 4.4 out of 5, the same rating they gave it a year ago. Only the fire department (4.5) fared better than the library system in the report's government services ratings, with BREC receiving a 3.8, police and sheriff a 3.5, the Department of Public Works a 3.2 and public schools a 2.3. Read Daily Report's coverage from Monday on the CityStats survey findings on decreased crime worries and more moderate political views among Baton Rougeans. —Rachel Alexander

Today's poll question: The new CityStats survey by BRAF suggests more Baton Rougeans are identifying themselves as "moderate" in their political views and fewer say they are "very conservative." Do you think this is an accurate reflection of our community?

Alford: Lawmakers should kick open closed committee doors

The Louisiana Legislature has made great strides in terms of access and the legislative process, says Jeremy Alford in his latest column. "Reporters get front-row seats during hearings before standing committees and on the House and Senate floors. For the public, testimony and debate are streamed live and archived on the Web," he writes. "Yet the Legislature has failed us when it comes to the transparency of conference committees." Conference committees are required when the House and Senate are unable to agree on changes made to each other's bills, Alford explains. "So the speaker and president assign representatives from both chambers to hammer out the differences and to present a compromise for subsequent floor votes," he writes. "Thing is, conference committee meetings are not public. Sometimes they're not even meetings in the traditional sense, nor do they always involve a closed door." And when the Legislature is in the final hours of a session and there's not always enough time to review all of the modifications or make sense of the legal jargon within, Alford says, this lax framework can give way to dangerous results. "Such was the case this spring when the Legislature made short work of a conference committee report that included last-minute alterations clearing the path for more than $300,000 in additional retirement benefits for Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of State Police, and another trooper," he writes. "Edmonson has since said he never asked for the perk and that he will be turning it down. But the larger issue of why this happened has been overlooked." 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.)

'Business Report': How former LSU, NBA star Shaquille O'Neal built a multimillion-dollar business empire

More than two decades ago, a 7-foot-1-inch basketball star with a lopsided grin, a sense of humor and a tenacious business drive attempted to walk into LSU professor Joe Hair's principles of marketing class and got stuck. "He joked a lot about his height, even saying, 'They don't make these doors big enough for a guy like me,'" Hair tells Business Report in a feature from the current issue. "And he couldn't fit at the desk, either. So we got him a different chair to sit in, but we couldn't find a desk for him to sit in because he was so big." Shaquille O'Neal is still living large. He retired from the NBA three years ago after a 19-year career and four championship rings. But the 42-year-old continues to build his brand and expand his investment portfolio. He has a net worth of nearly $350 million, and last year he reportedly made $23 million in television commercials, endorsements and partnerships. He owns car washes, fitness centers and burger chain franchises. He has his own brand of shoes, watches and sunglasses. He's invested in Google, Vitamin Water and a jet company. He owns part of Muscle Milk. And he owns three nightclubs in Las Vegas. And that's for starters. "He's a pretty unique person. His advantage is that his success as an athlete gave him a platform and opened doors to do things that a lot of people would have to work harder to do," says Hair, who retired from LSU after 28 years and now teaches at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta. "He recognized that and leveraged it." Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

Landrieu, Senate Dems seek to split GOP on Export-Import Bank

Familiar with the Export-Import Bank? In all likelihood, most voters here in Louisiana and elsewhere in states such as Virginia aren't either. But that's not stopping Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu and Mark Warner from talking a lot about the so-called Ex-Im Bank lately as they campaign for re-election. Landrieu is highlighting the Ex-Im issue in her re-election fight against her leading challenger, GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy. She said Monday the bank promotes trade, creates jobs and helps small businesses, and Congress must reauthorize it "as soon as possible." Cassidy is responding cautiously, raising questions about the bank's value without explicitly opposing its reauthorization. "Very serious reforms are required," Cassidy says. His caution likely comes from the bank's ability to stir tea party supporters and other activists who want a smaller, less intrusive government. As The Associated Press reports, the Ex-Im bank is the most unlikely of campaign issues. Even some lawmakers say they never heard of the Export-Import Bank before becoming members of Congress. But with Republicans needing a net gain of six seats to win control of the Senate, matters even as arcane as the Ex-Im can't be ignored. Caught between their conservative base and pragmatic business groups, some Republican candidates are tip-toeing around the issue. For Democrats like Landrieu who are from toss-up states, it's a chance to label their GOP opponents as beholden to the ideological right at the expense of creating jobs. Read the full story.

Early Fox News poll shows 4% of voters want Jindal to get GOP nomination

Fox News prefaces its latest poll results on the 2016 presidential race by noting that it includes hypothetical matchups between prospective candidates that have not yet formally announced a run for office. "Some politicos sneer that it's a waste of time to ask these questions this early and the results are completely worthless," Fox News acknowledges, adding: "If you're still reading, you're an insatiable junkie who doesn't care what others think. Enjoy your fix." The poll was conducted July 20-22 under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research, and it included a random national sample of 1,057 registered voters with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who in recent months has used guest editorials in national publications and speeches in key campaign states to raise his national profile, is included in the poll. When asked which of the prospective Republican candidates they'd like to see take the nomination for the 2016 race, 4% of respondents say Jindal. That's a doubling of the 2% who pointed to Jindal when asked the same question in April by Fox News. In its December 2013 poll, Jindal didn't even crack 1%. Still, his 4% is higher than only two other Republicans included in the poll (Ohio Gov. John Kasich is at 2%, and Rick Santorum is at 3%) and it equals the 4% who said "none of the above." The poll shows 6% of voters are undecided on whom they want to see take the GOP nomination. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry lead the poll, with 12% each. Jindal is not included in any hypothetical matchups against the leading Democrat in the poll, Hillary Clinton. Read the full story, and see the complete survey results.

News roundup: LSU Health Shreveport gets nearly $5M NIH grant … Obama's economic advisers warn against delays on greenhouse gases … 35% in US facing debt collectors, report says

Funding the future: LSU Health Shreveport's largest program grant ever is getting even bigger. Officials say the National Institutes of Health has awarded a five-year grant of more than $4.82 million to Dr. Dennis J. O'Callaghan, head of the Department of Microbiology, to continue and expand the capabilities of the institution's Center for Molecular and Tumor Virology. The funding comes from the NIH's Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence program. LSU Health Shreveport has received $22.9 million in COBRE funding since 2003. Officials say the new funding will allow O'Callaghan and others to continue mentoring young scientists and provide the necessary research equipment and facilities for their work.

All the world is green: Delaying action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change could damage the U.S. economy, according to a report to be issued today by the White House's Council of Economic Advisers. The council estimated that the eventual cost of cutting emissions will increase about 40% for every decade of delay because remediation measures will be more stringent—and more costly—as carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere grow. The Los Angeles Times suggests the report's timing is meant to bolster the case for the Obama administration's recent push to implement its climate change agenda, including a controversial rule proposed last month by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut emissions from existing power plants. Read the full story.

In the red: More than 35% of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released today by the Urban Institute. The study found that 35.1% of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The Associated Press reports the study also points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009. Read the full story.

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