Quick hits: Louisiana news briefs

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

State treasurer Schroder: Business grant program will begin taking applications by July 28

Small businesses can start applying by July 28 for grants to help cover COVID 19-related expenses, State Treasurer John Schroder announced Wednesday.

Through the Main Street Recovery Program, businesses with 50 employees or fewer can apply for up to $15,000 to cover eligible expenses. In the first 21 days of the program, grants will be given to businesses that didn’t receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan, insurance payment or an Economic Injury Disaster loan. In the first 60 days, $40 million will go to businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans, the treasurer’s office says.

Postlethwaite & Netterville, the largest Louisiana-based CPA firm, will administer the program, while MLCworks will help with digital marketing and advertising. Technology will be handled in-house through OpenGov, which already operates Treasury’s transparency website, Schroder said.

Lawmakers have set aside $275 million in federal CARES Act pandemic relief money for the program. More could be added if a separate fund reserved for local government expenses is not exhausted.

Gov. Edwards names Bernhard to LSU board

Gov. John Bel Edwards has named Jim Bernhard to the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Bernhard, an LSU graduate, founded the private equity group Bernhard Capital Partners and was founder and CEO of The Shaw Group, which was a Baton Rouge-based Fortune 500 company before Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. purchased it for $3.1 billion in 2012.

Bernhard is a former Democratic party official and a political supporter of Edwards who is occasionally rumored to be mulling a run for office himself. He has long been an outspoken advocate for increasing funding for higher education.

Other appointees to the board announced Wednesday include Collis Temple Jr., CEO of Harmony Center and C.T. Construction and the first Black player for LSU’s varsity men’s basketball team; attorney Patrick Morrow; and Raymond Morris, owner of West Carrol Health Systems.

Legislators approve 14 bills business task force backed

Lawmakers approved 14 bills drafted based on Louisiana Economic Recovery Task Force recommendations during the special session that ended Tuesday, task force Chairman Jason DeCuir says.

Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder brought together the 62 business leaders to come up with ideas to jumpstart Louisiana’s economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bills the task force supported during the session that were sent to the governor’s desk include instruments calling for tax relief, expanding existing incentives, and an overhaul of the state’s civil justice system.

Supporters said the task force-approved legislation provides relief to small businesses that were ordered to shut down or limit operations to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus. They said helping businesses also helps workers through preserving or creating jobs, noting that business closures erode the state’s tax base.

Some lawmakers complained that they weren’t doing more to help workers directly. Critics said many of the task force-backed measures will chip away at state finances without actually producing much tangible benefit for the economy.

Agriculture commissioner touts new federal trade deal

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which went into effect Wednesday, is a “major victory” for Louisiana farmers and ranchers, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said.

Strain helped create the Tri-National Agricultural Accord, which became a foundation for discussion on USMCA, he said.

“Louisiana stands to benefit by increased trade in grains, rice and textiles,” Strain said. “As we cope with a global pandemic, the USMCA provides food security by markedly increasing our capacity for trade with two of our largest trading partners in the world.”

Louisiana exported goods valued at over $3.57 billion to Canada and $9.22 billion to Mexico in 2018, Strain said. The top Louisiana export products to Canada and Mexico include $4.9 billion in petroleum and coal products, $2 billion in chemicals, $1.2 billion in agricultural products and $720 million in oil and ga