Capitol Views by Maginnis: Retirement contribution hike heads to House floor
Nothing has gone fast and easy for the governor's controversial retirement agenda. One of its major bills inched forward today, with the proposed 2% increase in employees' payroll contribution clearing the House committee and now headed to the House floor. The increase would be phased in 0.5% at a time over a two-year span beginning in July 2014. Like other retirement bills, Senate Bill 52 has slowed to a crawl, having taken a full month on the Senate floor calendar and several rewrites before it passed, 23-12, on Monday. Supporters and opponents made the same arguments put forward on this and other bills that change the rules for current employees. "It doesn't matter whose fault it was," said author Sen. Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, of the state's $18.9 billion unfunded accrued liability. "The problem is here today. We are here today." "This bill just doesn't break contracts; it breaks promises made to thousands of employees," said Cindy Rougeou, director of LASERS. Governor's counsel Liz Murrill claimed, "This is not a tax. It is deferred comp." Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, responded, "This is not deferred comp. It is a payment on past debt." Opponents roundly predicted this bill and others affecting retirement age and final annual compensation would be overturned in court. Jones counted seven areas ripe for constitutional challenge. Other Democrats criticized the bill, but Jones' was the only dissenting vote in its 10-1 approval. Read the full column here for additional coverage of a 47-page amendment that was tacked onto a three-page bill today and approved.
(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.
Democratic spokesman: Republican split may create opening
The ideological split among Republicans over whether to plug the budget deficit with so-called one-time money creates an opening that could give Democrats greater influence on the legislative process, Louisiana Democratic Party spokesman Mike Stagg says. "The Democrats are the largest bloc in the House as long as this Jindal/Vitter struggle for control continues," Stagg says. Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to use one-time funds, while U.S. Sen. David Vitter has expressed support for House conservatives who don't. Stagg says how Democrats choose to use that leverage will be up to individual members, not the party. However, a partywide email suggests that Democratic legislators try to extract a commitment from Jindal to hold a special session early in the 2013 fiscal year to review tax breaks, in hopes of finding new revenue to offset future cuts, in return for their votes for his budget in this session. Joshua Stockley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, says the split doesn't necessarily give the entire Democratic caucus any more power, but it could create opportunities for individual Democrats to trade votes on specific issues. Stockley and other political scientists say the recent disputes among Louisiana Republicans reflect the fact that the party, as it has grown larger, has become more ideologically diverse. —David Jacobs
La. students reaching 'basic' levels rises 2%
State education officials say the percentage of Louisiana public school students reaching "basic" achievement levels on standardized tests grew from 66% to 68% this year. The 2% gain follows gains of 1% in each of the past two years. Superintendent of Education John White, who released the figures today, says the 2% increase means roughly 10,000 more students are performing at grade-level this year than last year. Statewide, improvement was noted at almost every grade level and every subject. The exception was sixth grade, where there were declines in most subjects. The number of East Baton Rouge Parish students who reached "basic" achievement levels rose by 3% this year, placing the parish among the 16 in the state with the greatest such increase. The top district in the state, based on the percentage of students at grade level or above after 2012 spring testing, is Zachary Community School District, with 87% of students at grade level. West Feliciana and Central Community school districts are tied for second on that list, at 83%; Livingston Parish's district is eighth on the list, at 80%, and Ascension is tied for 10th at 77%. The Louisiana Department of Education is making the complete testing results available at its website here.
Uncle O's moving into former Brewbacher's on Sherwood
Local lunch spot Uncle O's Café Gumbo and Seafood is set to relocate from its familiar location near the corner of South Harrell's Ferry and Millerville roads, says Ouncy Borne. The new Uncle O's will take the space left vacant by departed Brewbacher's Grill at 3410 S. Sherwood Forest Blvd. Hoping to have the new location open by July, Borne says he decided to relocate to avoid traffic congestion and construction in the area, which he says was affecting sales. "Eventually I just got fed up and decided it was time to go," he says. The menu at Uncle O's features traditional Louisiana fare, including shrimp salad, a daily lunch special, gumbo and more. At the new location Borne also intends to serve alcohol, but does not expect to extend operations past "regular restaurant hours." Borne says he has relied on regular customers during his 15-plus years in business and hopes they'll follow him to the new location. "With all the confusion and all the mess, my customers have really kept me going," he says. Before closing in November 2010, Brewbacher's had operated at the South Sherwood site for 18 years. —Frederick Holl
Investors sue Nasdaq, Facebook and Zuckerberg over IPO
It hasn't taken long for the lawsuits to start piling up following Facebook's troubled initial public offering on Friday. Nasdaq OMX Group Inc. is being sued by an investor claiming the exchange operator was negligent in handling orders for Facebook shares at its IPO, causing losses for investors. In addition, a different civil lawsuit has also been filed against Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, IPO underwriters Morgan Stanley & Co. and others, alleging violations of securities laws. Phillip Goldberg, a Maryland resident, is seeking class-action status on behalf of all investors who lost money because Nasdaq delayed or otherwise mishandled their buy, sell or cancellation orders for Facebook stock. A technical glitch delayed Facebook's market debut by roughly half an hour, and later delayed order confirmations. Separately, investor Darryl Lazar filed a proposed class-action lawsuit in a California state court, alleging that Facebook's registration and prospectus were materially false, according to a statement from plaintiff law firm Glancy Binkow & Goldberg. On Monday, news broke that a consumer Internet analyst at lead underwriter Morgan Stanley cut his revenue forecasts for Facebook in the days before the offering—information that may have reached some investors but not most before the stock was listed. Reuters reports representatives from Facebook and Morgan Stanley could not immediately be reached for comment today on the securities class-action suit. Since being offered at $38 per share, Facebook stock has fallen to just over $32 as of this afternoon.
Influential Women in Business tickets available
Tickets for Business Report's 2012 Influential Women in Business Awards luncheon, set for Tuesday, June 5, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, are on sale and available online. The luncheon will feature internationally recognized speaker and author Lisa Johnson, who helps organizations accelerate their growth by applying the latest techniques in storytelling to common business challenges, including leadership, sales, innovation and marketing communications. Tickets are $40 each, or a table of 10 for $400. Get yours here. This year's honorees, who will be announced soon, will be featured in the May 29 issue of Business Report. See a list of all the past winners here.
News roundup: Jindal to attend rally for Walker, fundraiser … LSU's Rhymes named Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist … Animal Planet's 'Louisiana Lockdown' to focus on Angola
Headed north: Gov. Bobby Jindal plans to attend a rally for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in Milwaukee and also join him at a fundraiser for the Republican Governors Association. Both events are planned for Thursday, but few details have been released. Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews confirmed today that Jindal will be at a rally with Walker on Thursday afternoon, but she says more details won't be released until the morning. She says the fundraiser that evening will not be open to the public. A spokesman for the Republican Governors Association did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking more details. Walker faces a June 5 recall vote against Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In the field: LSU junior outfielder Raph Rhymes is on the list of semifinalists for the 2012 Dick Howser Trophy. The award, given to the top player in collegiate baseball, is based on two rounds of national voting. The award will be presented in Omaha June 15, the opening day of the 2012 College World Series. Rhymes, a native of Monroe, leads the nation in batting average, hitting .469 (92-for-196) with 11 doubles, three homers and 49 RBI. Rhymes has already been named the SEC player of the year by SEBaseball.com, which you can read about here, and odds are he'll pick up a lot more hardware as the awards season goes into full swing.
On the farm: In the latest reality TV show to focus on Louisiana, Animal Planet's Louisiana Lockdown will be set at the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, with a premiere slated for next month. "Home to more than 5,300 violent offenders, Angola has a fierce reputation, bloodied past and distinctive set-up," reads a brief description of the show on Animal Planet's website. "While the most extreme prisoners do time in solitary cells, some men earn the privilege of raising animals and training for the annual prison rodeo on the prison's secluded grounds." The first show will air at 9 p.m. on Friday, June 1.