Capitol Views by Maginnis: Administration, LFT oppose total school choice; first pension bills heard
A bill heard today made history but did not make it out of the Senate Education Committee. A senator suggested a picture be taken when state education official Erin Bendily and Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan sat together at the witness table to oppose Senate Bill 182 by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa. The bill would extend the state scholarship program to fund any student in any public school—as well as homeschoolers—to attend a private school. "If we are going down this road, let's be fair to all children," said Nevers, who voted against the school choice bill last week. The kicker is that any participating nonpublic school would administer state accountability tests to all its students and that it would comply with state certification standards for teachers, which is not part of the newly passed scholarship program. That created a split between the Louisiana Association of Educators, which backed Nevers' bill, and the LFT. The bill was involuntarily deferred. Having passed the major education bills, the Jindal administration turns its attention to pension reform. It supports two bills being heard in the House Retirement Committee today. Read more about those in the full column here.
(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.
B.R. Trends 2012: Real estate pros predict better times ahead
For the most part, real estate markets in the Baton Rouge area have stabilized after a rough few years, with positive signs cropping up in several sectors, according to speakers at today's annual Baton Rouge Trends real estate seminar, hosted by the Commercial Investment Division of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors. "The bleeding has stopped," says Don Stern, a realtor who spoke about residential trends. State privatization is bringing major new tenants into the office market, while low natural gas prices are driving industrial expansions, creating cautious optimism for landlords in the industrial real estate sector. Apartment rental rates are flat, although a slight uptick is possible in 2012. "We are starting to see some money come back into the market," says Brian Andrews of Andrews Commercial Real Estate Services. "Right now, apartments are getting the most attention out there in the finance world." Andrews says interest rates are "damn low," although some banks can't make any new real estate loans now, thanks to regulatory pressures. He says in 2011 banks were under pressure to get their credit quality under control but that in 2012 they will be under earnings pressure, meaning lenders are going to be hungry. For more details from today's presentations on the region's various real estate sectors, read the full story here. —David Jacobs
Letter of intent inked for grocery at Acadian Village
A long-awaited grocery store planned for the Acadian Village development at Perkins Road and Acadian Thruway appears one step closer to reality. That's according to real estate broker Jonathan Walker, who says a letter of intent has been signed between Commercial Properties Realty Trust—which owns and is developing the former Wal-Mart site—and a specialty grocery store chain. Walker declines to identify the chain, as does Commercial Properties, but he says he expects a lease to be signed within 30 days and that the chain plans to open a 15,000-square foot outlet—its first in Louisiana—on the site. That would be considerably smaller than the big-box store once envisioned for the site. But Walker says a smaller, specialty store will enable the developers to keep the mixed-use project more upscale. "I think they wanted to keep the grocery store high-end rather than bringing in some discount chain," he says. "'Upscale' is probably the key word." This isn't the first time talk of a grocery store at that location has grabbed headlines. Nearly four years ago, the state bond commission approved $4 million in GO Zone funding for Robert Fresh Market, an upscale New Orleans grocery store, to open at that location. Those plans never materialized, and rumors of another grocery store at the site have surfaced from time to time ever since. —Stephanie Riegel
Albemarle expanding Earthwise eco-friendly product line
Baton Rouge-based specialty chemicals maker Albemarle Corp. says it's expanding its line of eco-friendly products under its Earthwise division. The company announced today Dow Global Technologies is licensing a flame retardant for use in polystyrenes that is nontoxic and does not pose a risk to people or ecosystems. "Albemarle expects to commercialize this new technology in 2014 and is already working closely with customers to fully qualify the product in both applications," says Brian Carter, division vice president of global brominated flame retardants, in a news release. "This expansion of our Earthwise portfolio is another sign of our position as the industry leader in flame retardants."
Louisiana not appealing rejection of Facebook ban
The state of Louisiana has decided not to appeal a federal judge's decision to throw out a state law that prohibited certain sex offenders from Facebook and other social networking sites. Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed for the ban, had repeatedly said the state would challenge the ruling. But Marjorie Esman, head of the ACLU of Louisiana, announced today that the organization received a $65,000 state check reimbursing its legal fees and acknowledging the state won't appeal the ruling. In the current legislative session, Jindal has backed a proposal to rewrite the law to define more narrowly what sites are banned, with hopes it could withstand a court challenge. The judge said the law was too broad and would effectively ban those sex offenders from the Internet.
Pair of $3M lottery tickets sold at same Watson store
Louisiana Lottery Corp. officials say two winning lottery tickets worth $3 million each were both sold at the same Murphy Express gas station on La. 16 in Watson. Each Mega Millions for Tuesday's drawing ticket contained three plays worth $1 million each. The usual match-5 prize is $250,000; but when the optional $1-per-play Megaplier option is purchased, the prize becomes $1 million. Officials say one of the winners claimed his prize on Wednesday. The other ticket has not been claimed. The gas station will receive a bonus of $60,000, or 1% of the prize, for selling the winning tickets.
Consumer agency softens credit card fee limit
The Obama administration's consumer financial watchdog agency is backing off a plan to limit big upfront fees on credit cards. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau acknowledged today that its proposal would increase costs for cardholders and allow banks to charge more in fees. Banks aren't allowed to charge fees totaling more than 25% of a person's credit limit in the first year that the account exists. But there's no limit to the fees they can charge before the card is activated. Under a rule proposed last year, those up-front fees would have counted toward the 25% cap. But the CFPB is retreating from that idea after a court prevented it from taking effect. The consumer agency's new rule would let banks charge whatever fees they want up front. The 25% cap would only apply to fees charged after the card is issued. The CFPB was set up after the financial crisis to protect consumers from loans and cards with hidden fees or other traps. Get the full story from The Associated Press here.
Sports roundup: West sends Moondog the mascot to the hospital with playful punch … In ’89, idea of bounties in the NFL alarmed few … ESPN commentary: Saints should get 'the death penalty'
Hound downed: The Cleveland Cavaliers' growing injury list will now include its team mascot, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Moondog needed to be taken to a local hospital after suffering an eye injury during a pre-game play fight with Indiana Pacers forward David West—a former New Orleans Hornet—on Wednesday night. The Cavalier canine was later released, and a team spokesman says he should be fine. "He jumped at me, so I thought we were playing around, and then the next thing I know he went down," West told reporters after the game. "It was definitely an accident." The club did not update Moondog's status for Sunday's game against Orlando. The mascot occasionally has fun sparring with opposing players before the game or during a timeout. "I feel terrible about that, I really do," West says. "We were just having fun right before the game. We were just messing around. I really hope he's OK."
Get your kicks: While the NFL's current bounty scandal is no laughing matter—especially for faithful followers of the New Orleans Saints—the league's most notable previous bounty scandal produced little outrage and zero condemnation. As The New York Times reports, the only person to receive any penalty in the case was the victim. Mostly, the incident between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys was played for laughs. Particularly bad blood between the rivals boiled over in a game in 1989, following which Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson accused the Eagles of putting a price on the head of his kicker, Luis Zendejas, who had previously played for the Eagles. Ryan called the bounty allegations excuses and "High School Charlie stuff," and most people agreed. Hall of Fame sportswriter Ray Didinger now says of the incident: "To a large degree, it was laughed off. No one is laughing now." Read the full story here.
Crime and punishment: You think the punishments laid down on the New Orleans Saints for the now-infamous bounty scandal are harsh? If ESPN columnist Art Garfamudis had things his way, the Saints would not only be losing coach Sean Payton for a season, $500,000 and a few draft picks (on top of other upper management suspensions and possible player suspensions); they'd cease to be a team for an entire season. "What could be more extreme than the punishments already given? The Death Penalty. That's right. I am strongly urging the NFL should take a page from the NCAA manual and suspend the New Orleans Saints football operations for a period of one season," Garfamudis writes. Read his full column here.