Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, April 25, 2012

Schedler 'completely perplexed' by low voter turnout Saturday

Despite all the prefatory hype and controversy generated by the CATS tax on last Saturday's ballot, turnout for the special Saturday election was a mere 26%. But voter apathy wasn't limited to East Baton Rouge Parish. Average turnout statewide in the 45 parishes that held special elections was just 11%, according to Secretary of State Tom Schedler's office. "I'm just completely perplexed," says Schedler. "I used to say that turnout depended on whether there is a hotly contested issue on the ballot. But I have been proven wrong." The local 10.6-mill property tax measure to support the Capital Area Transit System was certainly a hot-button issue. So was a racially charged race for an at-large council seat in New Orleans, where fewer than one in four registered voters went to the polls. Schedler speculates the low turnout was due in part to a lack of interest in all levels of government among voters. But he also blames the excessive number of elections in Louisiana for creating what he calls "voter fatigue." Between January 2005 and December 2010, Louisiana held 70 elections, significantly more than any other state in the country during that same period. "Every weekend there is an election," Schedler says. "People are fed up with it." —Stephanie Riegel

Halliburton opposes BP's proposed settlement of Gulf spill

Halliburton is opposing a $7.8 billion proposed settlement between BP and lawyers suing the London-based company over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Bloomberg reports, citing a court filing. Halliburton "objects to the limited amount of time available to analyze the settlement agreements and files these preliminary objections," says Donald Godwin, a lawyer for the Houston-based company, in court papers. The proposed agreements cover two classes, for economic loss and medical injury. BP in March agreed to resolve most private plaintiffs' claims for economic loss, property damage, and spill- and cleanup-related injuries. Lawyers for BP and the plaintiffs filed the accord April 18 with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans for preliminary approval. Barbier is considering the request for approval at a hearing today. Halliburton also objects to the agreement because it assigns BP's claims against the company to the plaintiffs lawyers and attempts to make Halliburton "liable in part for settlement payments," Godwin says, adding that the settlement also restricts Halliburton's ability to settle claims. The proposed settlement, reached March 2, days before a scheduled trial on liability for the 2010 spill, doesn't cover federal government claims and those of Gulf Coast states Louisiana and Alabama. Also excluded are claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling prompted by the spill.

La. legislation promoting more propane-powered vehicles clears House panel

Lawmakers have taken the first steps toward allowing coin- or credit card-operated propane dispensing devices at fuel stations in the state, The Times-Picayune reports. Without opposition, the House Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works has sent to the House floor a bill by Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, that would promote the widespread use of propane gas for vehicles. State law now prohibits the general use of self-service pumps for propane. Ortego says state law currently requires a user to have a card-lock system on the vehicle and to visit a dealer to have its tank filled, normally under a contract. The dealer is also required to provide the buyer with written instructions on how to use the system safely. Ortego says his House Bill 1061 would repeal both of those provisions and make propane more available to the public. The bill would authorize the sale of propane to the general public at retail outlets, but would require each dispensing unit or pump to have "step-by-step" instructions informing the buyer how to safely use the pump and transfer it to the vehicle. "We are trying to keep up with the rest of America," says John W. Alario, director of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission, which would oversee the propane program. "It is nearly impossible for someone traveling from out-of-state to fill their cars" with propane in Louisiana without a pre-existing contract.

Editor's note: This story has been changed since its original publication.

U.S. orders for long-lasting goods plunge in March

Orders for long-lasting factory goods fell by the largest amount in three years last month, according to a report out this morning from the Commerce Department, mostly because demand for commercial aircraft plummeted. Companies also ordered less machinery and other equipment, signaling manufacturing output may slow. Orders for durable goods dropped 4.2% in March, the steepest fall since January 2009. Commercial aircraft orders, a volatile category, fell by nearly 50%. Excluding transportation equipment, orders declined 1.1%. That's the second drop in that category in three months. And orders for so-called core capital goods—considered a good measure of business investment plans—declined 0.8%. Companies cut their orders for steel and other metals, industrial machinery and computers. Shipments of durable goods—those expected to last three years or more—increased last month, which adds to growth in the first three months of the year. In March, durable goods orders totaled $202.6 billion, 36% above the recession low. Still, orders remain 17% below their peak in December 2007. The government will report on the economy's first-quarter growth Friday. Get more figures from today's report in the complete story here.

New programs at Grambling, La. Tech get initial approval

The Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System has approved three new academic degree program proposals for two northeastern Louisiana universities. During a meeting Tuesday in Baton Rouge, the board approved a proposal from Grambling State University to develop a Master of Arts degree program in teaching and a letter of intent to establish a Bachelor of Science degree in child development and early literacy. The board also approved a proposal by Louisiana Tech University to start a doctoral program in molecular sciences and nanotechnology. For GSU, the new MAT program would cover special education, elementary education and secondary education; it would replace the alternative teaching certification-only program currently offered at the university, which does not include secondary education. The MAT program is expected to launch in June. GSU's proposed bachelor's degree in child development and early literacy would replace the existing associate degree program in child development. All academic programs must also be approved by the Board of Regents before becoming finalized.

Google launches storage service for personal files

Google is hoping to build the world's largest digital filing cabinet in the latest attempt to deepen people's dependence on its services. The Internet search leader began its pursuit of the audacious goal Tuesday with the much-anticipated debut of Google Drive, a product that stores personal documents, photos, videos and a wide range of other digital content on Google's computers. By keeping files in massive data centers, users will be able to call up the information on their smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and just about any other Internet-connected device. Content can also be shared among friends, family and co-workers more easily by sending links to the information instead of emailing large attachments. Google Drive is offering the first five gigabytes of storage for free. Monthly prices for additional storage will range from $2.49 for 25 gigabytes to $49.99 for one terabyte, equivalent to five laptops with 200-gigabyte drives. The service is initially available through a Web-based interface or as a software installation on Windows-based computers, Mac computers, laptops running on Google's Chrome operating system, and smartphones powered by Google's Android software. A version compatible with Apple Inc.'s hot-selling iPhone and iPad is due out in the next few weeks. Read the full story here.

News roundup: Report shows Alaska profitable for oil, senator says … 3 million crickets die in blaze at West Monroe farm … SU Marching Band, Alumni Federation net national awards

Tundra drilling heating up: An Anchorage senator says the $616 million ConocoPhillips earned in Alaska during the first quarter of 2012 shows the state is a highly profitable place to produce oil. Sen. Bill Wielechowski says the figure equates to $7 million a day and "blows a hole" in the governor's argument for lowering taxes on existing legacy field producers. ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman says the $7 million figure is "far overshadowed" by the $13 million a day in taxes and royalties ConocoPhillips paid to the state during the quarter, and the profits are the result of significant past investments. Lowman says ConocoPhillips' capital investment grew from $1.8 billion to $4.8 billion between 2010 and 2012 in the lower 48 states but stayed around $900 million in Alaska. The company plans to discuss the figures further in a legislative hearing today.

Singing a sad song: The owner of Armstrong's Cricket Farm in West Monroe says a Monday night fire destroyed 3 million crickets at the business. Jack Armstrong estimates his loss of the building and the inventory at $500,000. Fire investigator Charlie Simmons tells The (Monroe) News-Star the fire was confined to only one of the multiple buildings where crickets are housed. Simmons believes the fire started from the malfunction of an electric fan motor. Armstrong says although 3 million crickets were killed in the fire, the building only housed a small portion of the business's total crickets. He says some of the crickets lost in the fire were scheduled to be shipped out today to PetSmart locations across the country, and the rest were intended to be sold as fish bait in early May.

From the top: The Southern University Marching Band, or "Human Jukebox" as it's often billed, has been named 2012's Best HBCU Marching Band by the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy. Also, the SU Alumni Federation was named National Alumni Association of the Year. The SU Marching Band has performed around the world and made several TV appearances in addition to being featured in two of film director Spike Lee's productions. Since 2010, the SU Alumni Federation has awarded more than 215 scholarships to SU students totaling more than $124,000. The Southern University System had nominees in eight of the 27 categories among the finalists for the second installment of the national award ceremony recognizing Historically Black College and University achievement. See the full list of all colleges, universities and students who won 2012 awards here.

Today’s poll question: Do you plan to head downtown this weekend to take part in the Louisiana Bicentennial celebration?

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  • Of the nearly 36,000 Louisianans who registered to vote in the past two months, roughly half did not align themselves with either the Republican or Democratic parties. What do you think this is a reflection of?
  • It's a reflection of voters' growing frustration with both parties.
  • 70%
  • It's a reflection of voters' increasing unwillingness to label themselves politically.
  • 18%
  • It's a reflection of a shift in Louisiana's political culture away from party affiliations.
  • 8%
  • I don't know.
  • 4%
  • Total Votes: 770