Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, March 21, 2012

News alert: Payton, Loomis and Williams suspended by NFL

For his involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, coach Sean Payton has been suspended for one season without pay by the NFL, the league has announced. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended for eight games. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has since been hired as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, has been suspended indefinitely. The team has also been fined $500,000 and will have to give up its second-round picks in the 2012 and 2013 NFL Drafts. In addition, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been suspended without pay for the first six games of the 2012 season. Payton's suspension will begin April 1. The NFL revealed earlier this month the findings of a lengthy investigation into a Saints bounty program that gave thousands of dollars in payoffs to players in exchange for hits that knocked opponents out of games. The program, administered by Williams, reached its height in 2009, the season the Saints won the Super Bowl. Read Daily Report PM for additional details.

Jindal talks family, legislative strategy in exclusive interview

Gov. Bobby Jindal begins his second term at the apex of his power as Louisiana's chief executive. His first term was heavily characterized by crisis control, including hurricanes Gustav and Ike, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River's perilous rising and recessionary budget cuts. He toured the nation and compiled an intimidating war chest, raising both his and the state's image on the national scene. Now, following a re-election triumph in which no major candidate stood to oppose him, Jindal has the pieces in place for the biggest moves yet in his political career. Prior to the start of the current legislative session—in which Jindal's push for massive reform of K-12 education and the state's pension system are paramount—the governor sat down with Business Report for an extensive and exclusive interview in which he opened up about Louisiana, his family and what will likely be his legacy legislative session. "I've told my cabinet from the very first cabinet meeting, which was my first day as governor … we're going to run out of time before we run out of things to do," Jindal says. "I've got the greatest job I've ever had and I probably will ever have in my professional career. So for me every moment is precious. I don't want to waste a moment in this job." Read the entire interview in the new issue of Business Report here.

GOP candidates announce more La. events in run-up to Saturday's primary

As the national political spotlight swings to Louisiana in advance of Saturday's primary, GOP candidates Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have announced more events in Baton Rouge and throughout Louisiana. Paul will hold a pair of town hall meetings at college campuses on Friday, with the first set for 1 p.m. at Louisiana College in Pineville and the second at 7 p.m. on the Southeastern campus in Hammond. For his part, Newt Gingrich has announced a pair of events in Baton Rouge on Thursday. Gingrich's wife, Callista, will visit the Baton Rouge Center for the Visual & Performing Arts from 4-5 p.m. Later in the day, Gingrich is scheduled to appear at the Baton Rouge Tea Party Presidential Forum & Straw Poll on the LSU campus from 8-9:30 p.m., hosted by the LSU College Republicans. Rick Santorum—who leads most Louisiana polls and is widely expected to win Saturday's primary—will be in Mandeville today and Monroe on Friday. Mitt Romney, who had a strong win in the Illinois primary Tuesday, is scheduled to be in Shreveport Friday. You can see a full list of candidate events across the state from the Republican Party of Louisiana here.

Feds: No decision on onshore royalties; fracking rules coming next month

Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey on Tuesday contradicted recent comments by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who had said the department planned to propose boosting the current onshore royalty rate by 50%—from 12.5% to 18.75%—to make it equivalent to the offshore rate, The Houston Chronicle reports. "We have completed analyses and are continuing to assess options before us," Abbey told the House Natural Resources Committee's Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee. "But let me assure you, there has been no final decision to increase onshore royalty rates." Salazar told Congress last month that his department planned to raise the onshore royalty rate to ensure that taxpayers get a fair return on the development of oil and gas leases on public lands. The onshore royalty rate hasn't been raised since the 1920s, and government reports have suggested the current rate brings in less money than states receive, Interior officials have said. Industry groups such as the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance and some Republicans oppose raising the royalty rate because they contend the current rate reflects additional costs for drillers stemming from federal regulations and application reviews. Abbey also told the committee that his agency hoped to unveil in April its highly anticipated rules for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," on federal lands. Get more details from the full story here.

Tornado watch in effect until noon as storms sweep through La.

About two-thirds of Louisiana is under a tornado watch until noon today as strong storms that dumped up to 15 inches of rain over southwest Louisiana on Tuesday continue to push through the state today. The National Weather Service says the storms aren't expected to bring nearly as much rain to Baton Rouge and New Orleans as they move through, but there's still the possibility of flash flooding. A total of one to two inches of rainfall is expected in Baton Rouge. Possible tornadoes were reported in Lake Arthur, Gueydan and Abbeville between 5 and 6 this morning. Gueydan police say one house trailer was destroyed and others damaged but that nobody was hurt. The NWS in Lake Charles says crews will check whether the damage was from straight winds or twisters. Heavy rains also closed at least a dozen school systems today in west Louisiana and Cajun country, while high winds downed power lines and trees Tuesday from Union Parish in north-central Louisiana to Calcasieu Parish in the southwest. Get the updated forecast for Baton Rouge from the NWS here.

U.S. home resales dip, yet best winter in 5 years

U.S. sales of previously occupied homes dipped last month, according to a report out this morning from the National Association of Realtors, but the sales pace for the winter was still the best in five years. Home sales fell 0.9% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million. That's down from a revised 4.63 million sold in January—the highest level since May 2010. The last three months have been the best for winter sales in five years, NAR says. A mild winter and a stronger job market have helped boost sales ahead of the all-important spring buying season. Even with the gains, sales remain below the 6 million that economists equate with healthy markets. And the makeup of those sales still signals a troubled market. Sales among first-time buyers, who are critical to a housing recovery, fell slightly to 32% of all purchases. That's down from 33% in January. In healthy markets, first-time buyers make up at least 40%. And homes at risk of foreclosure made up 34% of sales, down only slightly from 35% in January. In more stable markets, foreclosures make up less than 10% of sales. The Associated Press has the full story here.

Hartford Financial exiting annuity business

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. is exiting the annuity business so it can focus on its property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds businesses. The company announced the move this morning. It comes a little more than a month after hedge fund manager John Paulson urged Hartford to spin off its property and casualty insurance business. At that time, Hartford said it would review Paulson's plan, but warned that a breakup wouldn't be easy. Hartford says it will stop new annuity sales on April 27 and anticipates taking a $15 million to $20 million after-tax charge in the second quarter. Annual run-rate expenses are expected to decline by about $100 million, before taxes, starting next year. Hartford Financial also says it's looking to sell or pursue other options for its individual life, Woodbury Financial Services and retirement plans, but that it will continue to write new business in those areas. The Hartford, Conn.-based company says its decision to exit the annuity business came after a board evaluation conducted over the past several quarters ended this week. Annuities, which are a popular component of retirement plans, enable individuals to invest and get payments at a later date or series of dates.

News roundup: Roemer and Abramoff to discuss campaign finance reform in Washington D.C. … N.O. Entrepreneur Week sends startups to N.Y., Silicon Valley for funding pitch … LBP releases fact sheet on health insurance exchange

Headliners: Presidential candidate and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer is joining disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff on Thursday in the nation's capital to discuss the need for campaign finance reform. A group called the Committee for the Republic is hosting the event. Roemer—who began his presidential run in the GOP field but is now vying for an independent spot on the ballot—has made campaign finance reform a cornerstone of his platform. Abramoff released a book titled Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist in November, less than a year after being released from prison. He served three years of a nearly six-year sentence for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion. More details on the event can be found at Roemer's website here.

Taking their best shot: Two startup firms based in New Orleans are headed out-of-state to meet with some of the country's top venture capitalists and make their pitch to angel investors. Kickboard by Drop the Chalk and adverCar won the trips at separate competitions during the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, which wrapped up last week. Kickboard founder Jen Medberry is headed to Silicon Valley to meet with top investors, while adverCar co-founder Neil Turner will travel to New York City to meet with the New York Angel Group. Baton Rouge's entrepreneurship week is slated to take place this fall to coincide with National Entrepreneurship Week.

Facts and figures: As the state and federal government continue to work toward setting up a new health insurance exchange, the Louisiana Budget Project has released a fact sheet aimed at Louisiana legislators and other interested parties as key decisions in the process are being made. Louisiana became the first state to announce that it would not set up its own exchange, but would cede that responsibility to the federal government. "Even with the federal government in the lead, a successful exchange in Louisiana will require federal-state cooperation and public input," LBP says. Check out the full fact sheet here.

Today's poll question: Should Rep. Sam Jones apologize for saying the "process" being used by the governor's office to attack opponents of its education reform plan "makes you think back to the brownshirts of the 1930s," a reference to Nazi Party tactics during World War II?

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