News Briefs

Mixing legislation, Louisiana Press Women honor Independent staffers, and Tsunami owners invest in Baton Rouge


"Whenever you talk about alcohol-related bills, there's always controversy," says Jeanerette state Rep. Troy Hebert. But Hebert, who's a public defender of cockfighting and last year took to the state capitol steps to protest the way Gov. Kathleen Blanco stripped him of his House Insurance Committee chairmanship, isn't known to shy away from a showdown.

One of his latest bills has drawn the ire of fellow legislators as well as the Mothers Against Drunk Driving advocacy group, who see it as a weakening of alcohol regulation. The bill seeks to allow daiquiri machines in the 6,000 grocery and convenience stores across the state that are already licensed to sell pre-packaged liquor. Hebert's bill, HB 754, would also allow them to sell frozen drinks that are mixed away from public view and put into cups with a lid. It is expected to come up for a vote on the House floor sometime this week.

"I know it's ironic but I don't even drink," Hebert says. He contends his bill only clarifies the law and does not stray from existing regulations.

"It's no different than the wine coolers or the Bacardi and Coke packages that are in the cooler now that they sell," he says. "My bill doesn't allow [retailers] to mix somebody a screwdriver ' that's a barroom."

State Alcohol and Tobacco Commissioner Murphy Painter, who is not allowed to take a position on legislation, wondered what the ultimate effect of the bill would be.

"It's going to change the whole definition and whole theory behind different [alcohol] licenses," he says, adding that it could override local ordinances that prevent daiquiri stores from operating close to churches and schools. "Anyone could manufacture any kind of mixed drink with ice, put a lid on it and say that you're abiding by the law."

Hebert says he would be open to amendments to further clarify the intent of his bill, which he doesn't expect to supercede local zoning ordinances or to open the door for retailers to sell pre-mixed cocktails.

"Frozen drinks," Hebert says. "That's all we're dealing with here, and if you read the bill, it's pretty darn clear." ' NS


Independent Weekly Photo Editor Terri Fensel and Editorial Director Leslie Turk were honored with multiple awards at the Louisiana Press Women's annual Margaret McDonald Journalism Contest banquet on May 21. Turk won first place in the Feature Story category for non-daily newspapers and also earned second-place honors for news reporting.

Fensel was the banquet's big winner, capturing the sweepstakes category for most awards earned. Fensel swept the news, feature and photo categories on her way to racking up 13 awards. Fensel and Turk's first place entries will now be entered into the National Federation of Press Women's competition, and winners will be announced in September. ' SJ


Tsunami owners and sisters Michele Ezell and Leah Simon have a financial interest in the Lava Room, which opened Friday in downtown Baton Rouge.

Ezell and Simon are minor investors and won't be involved with running the restaurant, a Cuban-inspired eatery by day and Spanish tapas bar by night.

The duo, which got its start in Lafayette more than five years ago, opened a Tsunami restaurant atop the Shaw Center for the Arts in downtown Baton Rouge three months ago. It's the Shaw Center's former director, Andre Mika, who is the majority owner of the Lava Room.

"It's very decidedly West Coast," Mika says. His wife, Jami, who once worked as an interior designer for Merv Griffin's Beverly Hilton Hotel, created the interior's look. "It's very theatrical, deep, deep dark red room, very contemporary furniture, a lot of cool lighting," says Andre, who declined to disclose the total investment in the Third Street restaurant ' a spot that previously housed the Brazilian restaurant Marrazil. ' LT**