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This week's cold temps could hamper this weekend's crawfish supply

This week's wintry weather that hit Louisiana could result in a lower supply of crawfish this weekend.  Mark Shirley, with the LSU AgCenter, says pond water temperatures dropped into the 40's this week, which keeps crawfish from crawling into traps.  

Shirley says if you want some crawfish this weekend, you may want to get them early.
"I think, if you want to eat crawfish this weekend, you can find crawfish at some of the drive-thru boiling places or some of the restraunts.  The supply may not be there."

He says you will be able to find crawfish this weekend, but the supply will be below normal.  Unfortunately, the decrease in production will see a rise in the price of mudbugs.  Shirley says you should see an improvement in the price as temperatures warm up.

"It kind of depends on the size that they're grading the crawfish that they're selling and some other factors, in there.  But we're still in winter mode, so you're going to see higher prices now compared to springtime."

Because of the cold temperatures, you may see some smaller crawfish on your plate, but Shirley says crawfish are good, no matter what size they are.  He says, although the winter weather has slowed the crawfish harvest, it hasn't shut it down completely.

"Crawfish are available now.  They're going to get more available the rest of Lent on through Easter Week.  So don't delay in enjoying some Louisiana crawfish." 

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Several prominent Louisiana shot films being readied for release

The new movie "Focus", featuring Will Smith, hits theatres today and it's just one of many major Louisiana shot movies to be released this year.  Chris Stelly, Executive Director of Louisiana Entertainment, says "Focus" could top the box office this weekend.

"Will Smith is still considered one of the bigger box office draws in Hollywood and I'm very excited about that movie.  I think it will showcase the city of New Orleans and the city of New Orleans really well."

The streak started last weekend with the release of "Hot Tub Time Machine 2".  Stelly says other Louisiana films scheduled to open this year include "Pitch Perfect 2" in May and "Jurassic World" in June.  Stelly says he's looking forward to seeing "Get Hard" starring Will Farrell and Kevin Hart that will open next month.

"Of all of the trailers that have come out recently, this certainly looks like one of the funniest ones to date.  You've got two comedic geniuses at work, playing off of each other, so I'm very excited to see that one."

This summer will also see the release of "Terminator Genisys" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in July and the reboot of the "Fantastic Four" franchise in August.  Stelly thinks this summer is going to be a blockbuster season for films shot in Louisiana.

"Continuing on that great tradition of Louisiana films that are shot here and that have become part of our ever expanding canon of films." 

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Jindal's proposed budget expected to contain deep cuts to higher ed and health care

The Jindal administration will propose a budget for next fiscal year to lawmakers that's expected to include significant cuts to higher education and health care.
Jeremy Alford, publisher of Lapolitics.com, says the cuts are necessary because of a 1.6 billion dollar revenue shortfall. 
"We're talking about a nightmare scenario," Alford said.
Alford expects today's budget presentation will also include discussion on how to mitigate the cuts. He says the governor's team will seek to alter refundable tax credits so that the state doesn't pay as much money out as it does now, but legislators are still looking at a very difficult budget situation. 
"It's unavoidable that some lawmakers are going to come out of this session and head into re-election deeply scarred," Alford said.  

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Controversy surrounding tonight's Lafayette Bill Cosby show

Michelle Southern reporting.
The embattled comedian Bill Cosby is appearing tonight at the Heymann Performing Arts Center in Lafayette. There are some who aren't happy about that due to allegations which recently surfaced accusing Cosby of sexually abusing women. 

Ebony Turner, Director of the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, is concerned people who still buy tickets to Cosby's show don't take these alleged victims seriously.

"Particularly these people who are putting these events together," said Turner. "We would hope the public would be more sympathetic towards the women who have come forward."

The comedian released a statement thanking fans for love, support and trust and added he can’t wait to warm the hearts of the audience with the gift of laughter.

Turner says it's their hope that people in the audience tonight realize that famous people also have private lives that are very different from who they portray.

"Just because you like The Cosby Show doesn't mean Bill Cosby isn't capable of criminal activity," said Turner.

The performance is set for 8pm.

Turner says there has been so much victim blaming surrounding the Cosby allegations that people are separating Dr. Huxabtable from someone who is capable of committing a horrible crime.

"I'd like for people who are going to this event know that just because this is a talented person it doesn't mean he doesn't have the ability to commit sexual assault."


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PSC still needs to approve CLECO sale

Michelle Southern reporting.
Cleco's shareholders have approved the sale of the Pineville-based company, but the Public Service Commission still has to give its consent.

A North American investor group led by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets and by British Columbia Investment Corporation is seeking to purchase the utility company. PSC Commissioner Clyde Holloway says he'll need to study this proposed merger carefully.

"I'm 50/50 right now on where I stand," said Holloway. "There's a lot of things I would like to look into and be sure that I'm taking care of Pineville and present employees."

Holloway says their job is to take care of people who work for CLECO and its customers. He says he knows what they have now with CLECO, but they don't know what they'd be getting with Macquarie -- a company outside of the US.

"We're going to study this very closely and I hope I can help influence other Commissioners to do what's totally in line for the rate payer and for the employee," said Holloway.

Holloway says he expects a vote before the PSC during the latter part of the third quarter of this year.

"We have consultants already in place and they are looking at it and will report what their findings are."


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29-percent of Louisiana bridges are deficient

2014 Federal Highway Administration data shows that 29-percent of Louisiana's nearly 13,000 bridges are deficient.  That's the 14th highest percentage in the United States.  

Louisiana DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett says motorists should not take this description of bridges in Louisiana too literally.
"'Structurally deficient' or 'deficient' or 'functionally obsolete' are unfortunate terms used by engineers to describe the need of repair for certain bridges, but it doesn't mean that it's unsafe."

He says DOTD is working to replace and repair as many bridges as they can.  Mallett says most bridges are on an inspection schedule of once every two years, with some on a six month schedule.  He says there are 81 bridge inspectors throughout the state.

"As they go out, if they determine that there need to be any repairs, then we have a maintenance group that will go out and repair and replace bridges as needed."

Mallett says, since 2008, DOTD has spent $1.3 billion to replace or repair 467 bridges across the state.  He says motorists should not think that that they can't safely cross bridges in Louisiana.

"If a bridge is unsafe, then we will close that bridge and we've done that in the past."

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Former Alexandria cop accused of having sex with juvenile arrested

The Rapides Parish Sheriff's Office says a now former Alexandria Police Officer is under arrest amid allegations he had sex with a juvenile. Lt. Tommy Carnline says they first got the complaint on December 1st of last year.

"The Sheriff's Office was contacted in reference to allegations of criminal sexual misconduct involving an Alexandria Police Officer," said Carnline.

He says the city of Alexandria conducted their own internal investigation after the alleged incident occurred and the accused, 38-year-old Deric Reed, was placed on leave immediately.

"We finished our investigation and turned it over to the DA's office," said Carnline.

Carnline says the alleged inappropriate sexual conduct occurred while Reed was off duty and it was outside the City of Alexandria. He says Reed no longer works for the Alexandria Police Department.

The suspect was arrested today for 1 count of Carnal Knowledge of a Juvenile.


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Two Slidell residents arrested for making a one-year-old drink beer

Two Slidell residents have been arrested after they allegedly forced a one-year-old to drink beer. Slidell police detective Daniel Seuzenau says the child's grandfather noticed signs of abuse.
"So we opened up an investigation and discovered that Brett Flower, who is the boyfriend of the mother, Krysten Verdin, was pouring beer down the child's throat."

24-year-old Brett Flower and 23-year-old Krysten Verdin were arrested on cruelty to juvenile charges. Seuzenau says Flower poured the beer the down the infant's throat, because he thought it was funny. 
"Obviously it's sick, it's not funny and we are very glad the grandfather came forward."
Seuzenau says when Flower poured the beer down the child's throat, it caused him to choke and regurgitate and Verdin then would get upset with the child. 
"She would then slap the child on the back of the head, causing him to fall to the floor, this happened on several occasions, according to witnesses.  

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Northeast Louisiana schools looking at some serious make up time

Michelle Southern reporting.
As students in Northeast Louisiana miss their 4th winter weather day in a row, officials say all these days off could mean longer days for students. The state requires 63,720 instructional minutes per student per academic year, and Ouachita Parish Superintendent Bob Webber says they've already exceed extra time that is incorporated for inclement weather.

"But what we'll actually do now is regroup and see where we are," said Webber. "Hopefully we can just add minutes to each day."

Webber says the first option will be tacking minutes to the end of each day through the end of the year, but they are very close to adding entire extra days to the calendar. Webber says in his 13 and a half years as Superintendent, he's never seen more than 2 inclement weather days in a row.

"Even away from school, I don't remember this much snow and ice lasting so long," said Webber.

In addition to the four days this week, Monroe City schools were also out a day in October last year because of an EF-2 tornado that tore through Ouachita Parish causing widespread damage.

Webber says even though they have a significant amount of time to make up, you would always rather be safe than sorry when it comes to putting kids on buses in snow and ice.

"And even your teenage drivers, you're concerned about them because they aren't used to driving in this weather and they may drive too fast," said Webber. "Each time you always want to make sure safety is your number one concern."


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Jindal-Vitter rift gets national press

The ongoing rift between Governor Bobby Jindal and Senator David Vitter is getting national press.  In a recent interview with the National Journal, Jindal told the reporter to turn the recorder off and he'd say what he really thinks about Vitter.  

Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says voters in Louisiana do not want to see these two fighting amongst themselves.
"And since they elected all of them, they want them to get along, they want them to get things done for Louisiana.  Anything short of that, it's like you're violating the public trust."

Both the governor and senator have taken shrewd jabs at each other over the years.  Pinsonat says it's amazing that Jindal is getting involved in this now, seeing that he is eyeing a run for president.  He says this could hurt the governor's aspirations.

"I don't see how it benefits him nationally to be involved in a fight with your United States Senator."

Vitter is in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign to succeed Jindal.  Pinsonat says this rift could actually benefit Vitter in his quest to become the state's next governor.

"Vitter can quietly go around Louisiana talking to all the rural Democrats who do not like Jindal and tell them Jindal doesn't like him." 

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Louisiana hosts the second most active bald eagle nests annually

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says The Bayou State now has the second highest number of bald eagles that are nesting.  Michael Seymour works with all non-game birds with LDWF and he says over the past couple of weeks they've been using helicopters to survey nests of bald eagles.

He says in 2007 they discovered about 340 nesting pairs.

"This year there were more, at almost 360 nests," said Seymour. "That's not a huge jump but the good news is that it's not a decrease."

Seymour says they looked at 647 nests and found that 356 were active with eggs, young and adults tending to them. He says most of them were located in the southeastern part of the state.

"That's where most of our swamp land is and the birds seem to like cypress trees and pine trees," said Seymour.

Seymour says bald eagles build families during the first few months of the year which is why they have recently conducted a new survey. He says there are so many bald eagles flying around in Louisiana that it's not unusual for you to spot one.

"They see them and report them along the side of the interstate," said Seymour. "There are several along the route between Baton Rouge and New Orleans which people have seen and reported to us."

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LSU audit finds Dr. Cassidy was paid correctly for work at university

LSU says an audit they performed finds newly-elected US Senator Bill Cassidy provided services to the university that equaled the 20-thousand dollar salary that he received. There were allegations during the US Senate race that Cassidy was paid for work he didn't perform.

Political Blogger Lamar White helped break the story that started the controversy and does not think the audit completely clears Cassidy. 
"It relies almost entirely on hearsay, conflicting, contradicting testimony from employees, that seems to me to be extremely unusual," White said. 
Doctor Cassidy, who is a liver specialist, said in a written response that the audit provides sufficient facts to conclude that he provided services for equal or more than that of his compensation. But White says the audit confirms that gaps do exist in Cassidy's time sheets, and he still questions whether Cassidy double-dipped. 
"How can he can be in Washington DC voting and then at the same claim that he was at clinics in Baton Rouge, none of those questions were answered," White said.  
White's comments were made on the Louisiana Radio Network's Jim Engster Show

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Children injured in bus crash in Rapides Parish

Eleven children were injured in a single vehicle bus school bus crash in Rapides Parish Tuesday morning. Trooper Scott Moreau says the bus was traveling down muddy Highway 121 when the driver lost control  and the bus overturned on its side.  

"All eleven children and the driver received minor to moderate injuries and were transported to the local hospital. The kids ages ranged from 5 to 15," Moreau said. 
Moreau says State Police are not expecting any charges for the driver but the investigation is still ongoing. He says they are looking to find a reason why there was so much mud on the road. 

"As it appears right now it looks like he did all he could. It was around 6:15 so it was just getting daylight, it was dawn and viability is low," Moreau said.

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Legislative Black Caucus want Governor Jindal to spend a little more time in Louisiana

The Legislative Black Caucus calls on Governor Bobby Jindal to stay in Louisiana and deal with the state's budget crisis.  Monday, Jindal spoke against President Obama at a press conference outside the White House.  

Monroe Representative Katrina Jackson says the governor needs to set aside his presidential aspirations and concentrate on problems facing Louisiana.
"It's very imperative, number one, that the governor stop holding conferences on the White House lawn and begin to hold conferences and meetings with legislators to solve this budget crisis."

It is reported that Jindal spent 45-percent of his time outside of Louisiana in 2014.  Jackson says Jindal is overly concerned with party politics and issues that are irrelevant in regards to the state's budget shortfall.

"Come home and deal with the problems we have.  Come home and solve this crisis before we see institutions of higher education close."

Jackson says they are reviewing tax credits in an effort to bring money back into the state.  Baton Rouge Representative Ted James says Louisiana is in the governor's rear view mirror and is not optimistic that Jindal will have much bearing in his last months in office.

"We all know the governor has been absent for seven years.  I don't expect him to come in the next seven months and try to have some type of presence here at the capitol in his last session."

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OMV urging people to make sure drivers ed program is certified

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Department of Motor Vehicles is urging citizens to be sure their local driver education program is properly certified through the state -- and now there's a way you can check online. 

State Police Sgt Nick Manale says the OMV regulates driver education programs throughout Louisiana to make sure education is up to par and that they have a license to operate."
"It's important that parents of teens or even new drivers to make sure that their driving school is licensed and certified through the state," said Manale. "That way you have all of the right training that's required."

Manale says the new web resource is offered through expresslane.org and it provides information on state licensed driver education providers so new drivers can verify theirs has met all applicable standards and certifications.

"It gives you information not only on the licensed driving schools that we do have in the state, but also inactive schools that have not met the proper criteria."

Manale says only applicants who have attended a properly licensed education provider will be eligible to receive a learner's permit or new license.

"There may be some companies out there that offer certain programs, but it's not the specific course that's required by the state for a student to get that permit."


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IRS audit rate lowest in at least a decade

The chances of you getting audited by the IRS is getting smaller.  The IRS audit rate dropped to its lowest level in at least ten years last year and is expected to drop further this year.  Since 2010, the number of IRS audits have fallen by over 20-percent.  

John Theriot, with the Louisiana CPA Society, says one reason for the drastic drop in the number of audits is money.
"The Internal Revenue Service and the federal government, they don't have the funds and they're short auditors and they're short people to go out and handle this process and training qualified people."

The IRS audited more than 162,000 fewer individual tax returns in 2014 than in 2013.  Theriot says another reason for fewer audits could be that more individuals are having their taxes professionally done.

"So I think that gives a little more credibility to the return.  There's also good software out there for the self preparers.  The software for the self preparers ask a bunch of good questions to help them prepare better returns."

Theriot adds that tax preparation software has helped individuals file more accurate returns.  He says this will probably have a bigger effect on the IRS and their ability to collect taxes from people they do audit than on the taxpayers themselves.

"I don't know that a tax payer is going to say, 'Wow, the IRS audit rate dropped a half a percent so I'm going to do something more aggressive.'" 

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The snow has arrived

The snow has arrived in north Louisiana and State Police urge residents to stay home and don't travel unless it's absolutely necessary. Trooper Matt Harris says if you do have to drive somewhere in areas where snow has fallen, take it easy.

"Decrease your speed, increase your following distance and allow yourself double the amount of time to get to your destination," Harris said. 
Harris says there's been dozens of weather related accidents on the highways, because of the snow. 
"If you are out and happen to hit a slick spot or a patch of ice, don't panic and slam on the brakes, because you will only increase your vehicle speed and run a higher chance of spinning out of control," Harris said.
He says the snow may look pretty, but it doesn't mix well with cold pavement and drivers who are NOT used to the snow. 
Forecasters say as much as four inches of snow will fall north of I-20 today, while less than two inches of snow is possible south of I-20.
(Picture courtesy of State Police)  

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Viking Cruises announces trips to start being offered from New Orleans

Michelle Southern reporting.
Viking Cruises announces they'll begin offering trips along the Mississippi River from the Port of New Orleans. The plan is to have the operation going by 2017 when two boats launch per year taking passengers on a journey upriver from The Big Easy to stops in Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee, Minnesota and more.

"The economic impact on the city of New Orleans and the state should be really good in the sense that they will probably be spending money, staying in our hotel rooms and eating in our restaurants," says Port of New Orleans President Gary LaGrange.

The move means hundreds of jobs and a boost to the state's tourism industry according to Governor Bobby Jindal. The specialty-built riverboats will have a full complement of luxury amenities and host up to 300 passengers. LaGrange says there will be amazing itineraries planned.

"When you've got a 14,500 mile long river and it's tributaries," says Lagrange. "There are 33 states and 3 Canadian provinces that they can reach."

Viking's new service will result in the creation of 417 new direct jobs for Louisiana-based operations and vessel crews with an average salary of $40,000. 

LaGrange says Viking's cruises are renowned for their locally oriented educational and entertainment programs. 

He says the folklore will bring a lot to heart as the Mississippi River has a powerful history.

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Deadline to assemble physician team to examine Tom Benson is today

Today is the deadline for the three physician team to be assembled that will perform the court ordered psychiatric examination of Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson in the legal fight involving his former heirs.  

Legal analyst Tim Meche says doctors will first sit down with Benson and ask him questions to test his memory.
"And they'll also do a free-flowing interview.  What they're not going to do, apparently, is any kind of neurological testing.  I think the judge has ruled that out."
The physician team has until March 13 to report their findings.  He says these examinations are meant to determine whether Benson is capable of making reasonable decisions concerning his care of his person and his property.

"Ultimately, they'll probably conclude that, yeah, he's 87-years-old, but he does have some understanding of how his businesses are run and he has assistance from people he trusts."

He says the tests will consist of a series of questions and a free-flowing interview.  The physician team will consist of one doctor chosen by Benson, one by his former heirs, and one agreed upon by those two doctors.  Meche says when doctors know other doctors are looking over their shoulder, it's rare for one to diverge from the group.

"Chances are they are going to have similar findings.  They probably all know each other and work in the same field.  So it's not going to be likely that they are going to have widely differing opinions." 

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Several inches of snow possible in north Louisiana

Parishes along I-20 are under a winter storm warning as a significant snowfall is expected. Marty Mayeaux, with the National Weather Service, says they are expecting more than a light dusting.
"Caddo, Bossier, Webster and eastward to receive up to four inches snow possible, more likely two to four inches is what we can expect." 
Several parishes are also under a winter weather advisory. Natchitoches, Grant, Franklin and La Salle parishes are included in this advisory. Mayeaux says these areas could also see snow.
"We may see up to an inch of snow pretty much everywhere in Louisiana," Mayeaux said.  

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