Gov. Kathleen Blanco told the Louisiana Democratic Party that she's running for re-election when her current term expires, but that political promise hasn't silenced other potential Democratic candidates. Former U.S. Rep. Chris John of Lafayette, now a big-money lobbyist in Washington, D.C., told The Shreveport Times he is "very interested in the race" but wouldn't run against Blanco. John was not the only new face deflecting old questions last week. Congressman Charlie Melancon, a freshman from Napoleonville, says "friends" are encouraging him to consider the race. "That's not anything I'm planning on doing," Melancon told WRKF radio in Baton Rouge. "But I never say never." ' Jeremy Alford
STATE ECONOMY A SMOKESCREEN?
Economic gloom turned into boom earlier this year when state officials found $750 million in new cash ' mainly from taxes and gambling ' to pump into the budget. National media outlets expressed surprise over the treasure, especially since a fiscal nightmare was expected for Louisiana in the wake of Katrina and Rita.
Well, every penny has been spent, and conservatives like Treasurer John Kennedy are warning that was a mistake. Kennedy has been giving speeches around the state predicting the economic boost will only be temporary and the storm's effects will eventually catch up. To bolster the argument, Kennedy's office has started referring to a group of studies citing South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Delaware as having local economies that spiked following a hurricane but later tapered off. Following Hurricane Andrew in 1994, for instance, the University of Florida experienced a temporary increase in job growth due to reconstruction that was spurred by insurance payments and federal money. The studies have prompted Kennedy and others to repeatedly ask one unanswered question: What's next for the state? ' JA
1,000 NORTH LAFAYETTE JOBS COMING
The Acadiana economy got quite a boost early this week when Canadian-based NuComm International announced its largest ever call center in the former Service Merchandise building in Northgate Mall ' creating 1,000 jobs in the first year with starting pay upwards of $9 an hour including health insurance and other benefits. Scheduled to open in late September, this is the company's 14th customer contact center, a $3.5 million investment with a local estimated economic impact of more than $115 million annually, according to a study by UL Lafayette economist Dr. Anthony Greco.
The majority of NuComm's Lafayette employees will be telephone representatives handling inbound technical support and customer care calls. Its centers offer such services for companies in the cable, telecom, automotive, financial services, retail, media and entertainment sectors. "We know we have a working poor and underemployed population, and these jobs address that community. They will help people making $6 an hour with no benefits," says Gregg Gothreaux of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, which worked with state and local government to secure NuComm.
Such service jobs are lifting lowest income positions up in Lafayette, Gothreaux says, contributing to its No. 3 ranking in per capital income in the state (the mean income computed for every man, woman and child).
A NuComm job fair will be held this week, Wednesday, Aug. 9 through Saturday, Aug. 12, at the Louisiana Technical College's Lafayette campus on Bertrand Drive. For more information, contact LEDA at (337) 593-1416.
In a press release announcing NuComm's Lafayette center, Gov. Kathleen Blanco says the state committed $1 million from its Rapid Response fund to make the deal happen. ' Leslie Turk
ANOTHER SPECIAL SESSION LOOMS
If state officials can't reach a compromise with Allstate executives soon, another special session may have to be called to deal with insurance issues. Lawmakers on the Legislature's insurance committees called for the session last week, although a few have forecasted it since the spring. At the core of the disagreement are Allstate's attempts to dump wind and hail coverage in south Louisiana. Consumer protection laws prohibit Allstate from doing this, at least on paper, and some lawmakers are willing to go back into session to strengthen the wording.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco says she has encouraged Allstate to pursue other options ' like raising deductibles. "I have asked Allstate to seek creative consumer-focused solutions and options that provide consumer choice in coverage," Blanco says. "This will reiterate to their customers that they are indeed 'in good hands.'" Largely, though, Blanco seems to have placed the mess in the hands of Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, who has the unique challenge of standing up for consumers while keeping insurers in the state. Blanco said she was waiting to hear the "next steps" from Donelon. ' JA
SMALL BUSINESS ASSOCIATION CHANGES PENDING IN SENATE
The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee has passed legislation that would allow private banks to issue disaster loans that are guaranteed by the SBA ' for up to two years after a hurricane. "This legislation makes some positive improvements in the SBA, in particular in the disaster loan program, implementing some of the lessons learned after Rita and Katrina," says U.S. Sen. David Vitter, the Metairie Republican sponsoring the Small Business Reauthorization and Improvements Act.
The measure would enable states to administer federal bridge loans on their own and allow the SBA to contract for extra staff to help process applications. It also combats fraud and establishes new policy that limits contract bundling, which will help reduce the need for big mega contracts and ensure small, local businesses get more contracting opportunities, Vitter says. ' JA
GRANT WILL HELP UL LAFAYETTE WITH OUTREACH
UL Lafayette is in line to receive nearly $700,000 from the TRIO Talent Search Program, a federal funded initiative that helps disadvantaged students graduate from college. The program identifies individuals who have the potential to succeed in higher education and provides them with academic, career and financial counseling, according to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who announced the available money this week.
Fifteen colleges and universities around the state will receive similar grants, she says, which will go toward supporting 11,650 students. The program encourages drop-outs to get back into school and also helps students who might still be in a transitional period since last year's hurricanes. "The TRIO program is not only essential to helping students fulfill their dreams by remaining in college," Landrieu says, "but also in helping displaced students overcome the significant obstacles and concerns they face as a result of the hurricanes." ' JA
ASSOCIATION SEEKS KATRINA AND RITA HEROES
Non-profit organization the Arthritis Association of Louisiana is accepting nominations for its annual "Tribute to Excellence" award, and the 2006 award will honor a person who devoted his or her time and resources to rescue and/or recovery efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Deadline for nominations is Sept. 30; for more info or a nomination form, visit www.aaola.org or call (866) 390-8736. ' Scott Jordan
DISPLACED ALLIGATORS HEADING INTO ATCHAFALAYA BASIN
With much of the marsh south of New Orleans and west of Vermilion Bay devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the upper Atchafalaya Basin is poised for an influx of displaced alligators. Vegetation in coastal marshes that provides cover for alligators was destroyed, and salt water pushed up into freshwater areas. While salt won't kill an adult alligator, hunter Jude Mequet of Henderson says alligator prey ' mainly turtles, fish and snakes ' have been affected. "Every gator down south has been pushed up north. I'm seeing bigger and bigger alligators," he says. "We can tell it's going to be a good year by how many we see."
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission met on Aug. 3 to determine how many alligator tags would be issued this year. Vermilion Gator Farms owner and Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner Wayne Segrera says there will be a statewide reduction from 36,000 tags to 30,000 alligator tags, and 3,000 fewer tags will be issued in Vermilion and Cameron Parishes than in previous years. "The impact to the marsh has been far greater in southwest Louisiana," Segrera says. A prolonged drought before the hurricanes hit was already affecting alligators, and the high salinity levels from the storm surge have put alligators under further stress. "Alligators will not lay eggs in severe drought years," Segrera says. "There is very little nesting going on ' it's down 50 percent statewide."
Since fewer females will be on their nests protecting their babies this year, more females will be caught during the hunt. "That's bad for next year's population," says Segrera. "But people are so desperate for income in this area, that they are going to hunt no matter what."
From an economic standpoint, because there will be fewer alligators, prices will stay high. Segrera expects to see upwards of $40 a pound for alligator hides.
The alligator farming industry will also struggle this year. Alligators don't lay eggs in captivity; farmers harvest eggs from wild nests in the late spring and summer. This year, farmers will release approximately 55,000 1-year-old alligators into the marsh, hoping to replenish the population. Those yearlings hatched from last year's harvest, which was collected before the hurricanes struck. This year, the nest and egg count has been decimated. "It's a very serious year for farmers," Segrera adds.
Meanwhile, Mequet is looking for a 13-foot alligator that got away last year. "I hooked him on 300-pound test line that's so thick they call it piano wire," he says. "I was pulling him up, and he was thrashing. He probably weighed a ton. I couldn't do anything, and the line popped." Mequet will be using even heavier line when alligator hunting season opens Sept. 6. ' Mary Tutwiler
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.