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Governor John Bel Edwards has issued the call for a special legislative session to address a 750-million dollar budget shortfall this fiscal year and a 1.9 billion dollar shortfall next fiscal year.
The session will start February 14th and end no later than March 9th at 6 PM. During those three-and-a half weeks, lawmakers will debate various budget cuts and tax increases.

The call gives the parameters on what they can do during the session. And that's raising the state sales tax by a penny, increasing cigarette and alcohol taxes and making changes to personal income tax brackets that could lead to additional revenue. 
Legislators will also be able to file bills to bring back an expired rental car tax and require retailers to collect tax on online sales.
"I have listened to legislators and have drafted a broad call allowing flexibility to consider both cuts and raising money for the state," Edwards said. "Now is the time for legislators to join with me to resolve these problems to begin filing bills that contain specific and workable solutions for the people of Louisiana, who deserve our very best right now."  
But Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia issued a statement wishing the session allowed for more budget reform initiatives that could reduce state spending.  
"While some non-tax items are included, many were anticipating more opportunity to address structural and spending reforms," Barras said. "We look forward to working with the Administration through this process and know our House members are committed to moving forward with responsible solutions."  


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Chevron North America has informed the Louisiana Workforce Commission about possible layoffs at five office locations in Covington and Lafayette. A total of 385 employees could be affected, 340 at the office locations and 45 offshore workers.

Eric Smith, Associate Director at the Tulane Energy Institute, says the low oil prices initially impacted independent oil producers, but now major companies are feeling the affects.
"As things have generally slowed down across the board and as demand has not recovered as much as people thought it would, you're seeing the majors having to go through some cutbacks."

Chevron says the cuts will begin April 4th and should be complete by June 7th. Smith believes the layoffs are primarily coming in upstream business, which is what they call the process of drilling and operations in getting oil out of the ground.

"At the moment, over half of our jobs in the oil industry are in refining and petro-chemicals, not in the upstream, and those jobs seem to holding up pretty well."

The company says they will help laid-off employees find jobs in other Chevron locations and offer severance packages to those unable to find one. Smith expects even more layoffs are coming.

"We simply can't produce oil and gas offshore for the kinds of prices we can count on, today." 


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New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard is the first Democrat to enter Louisiana's US Senate race. Fayard has never held political office, but did run for Lt. Governor in 2010.

Fayard says she's running for the Senate because she doesn't want the rest of the country to take Louisiana for granted and that starts in Washington, D.C.
"I want to explain to the people up in D.C., that I think are fighting over the wrong things and taking their eye off the ball, how important Louisiana is to the rest of the country and what we bring to the table."

A release from her campaign describes Fayard as a "pro-life, pro-business Democrat." She believes there are too many career politicians in Congress and voters are upset with the level of service they're getting from their government.

"It's time to have a fresh face and a fresh start and have someone who can really articulate the concerns of hard working American families."

She says this election isn't about politics, it's about what is right for the people of Louisiana. Political pundits have said that Fayard's chances of winning would be greatly increased if she remains the only major Democrat in the race. Fayard says she welcomes competition.

"I look forward to a robust debate with any opponents about where we need to go, not only as a state, but also as a country." 


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Discussions have started about forming another high school athletic association. It’s in response to a vote by member principals of the LHSAA who decided to expand the championship split to basketball, baseball and softball.Paul Rainwater organized a meeting with several high school principals and AD’s to discuss what it would take to form a new organization.

"I'm working with a steady group to come up with a structure, come up with a constitution, come up with a budget."
Rainwater is former Governor Bobby Jindal's former chief of staff and also served as commissioner of administration.  

One possible hurdle is that the National Federation of State High School Associations recognizes just one high school association in each state and that’s currently the LHSAA. Rainwater says that’s a challenge they can overcome.

"Obviously there is a way to reach out to a national federation and see what they're willing to do and what the criteria is to recognize another school and if there is some kind of process."

Rainwater says more meetings will take place in the coming weeks. He plans to have a constitution and structure ready to present to interested schools in May.

"We're looking at revenue sharing among schools, waving some fees. There are some things that we think we can do that could be a more efficient use of money."



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Michelle Southern reporting.
You can be sure there are plenty of fans in Louisiana who will be cheering on New Orleans native Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl Sunday. Isidore Newman High School football coach Nelson Stewart played with Manning for the Greenies from 1991-1993.

He's not surprised the 39-year-old is playing for his fourth Super Bowl, even though it was a difficult season.

"I think it makes it even more special because he had to battle so much adversity to get there," says Stewart. "It's almost like when everyone counted him out he rose up to the biggest challenge."

Some are wondering if this is going to be Manning's last game of his hall of fame career. But Stewart says knowing Manning, his only focus right now is on Super Bowl 50.

"I've learned the past few weeks you just can't count him out," said Stewart. "I guess it remains to be seen, but I really think he's going to look at it after the Super Bowl and that he hasn't decided yet."

Stewart says their entire school at every grade level is getting together for a massive pep rally at 10 where they'll be cheering and passing out orange and blue beads.

"We're just as excited as we've ever been," said Stewart. "And I think we're savoring this one even more."


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Everyone knows Mardi Gras festivities are huge in New Orleans, but southwest Louisiana has some great celebrations of their own. Meghan Hartman with the Lake Charles Southwest Convention and Visitors Bureau says Lake Charles has the second biggest Mardi Gras in the state. She says they’re proud of the fact their parades are family friendly.

“We have designated spots along the parade route that are alcohol and tobacco free. It all kicks off this weekend. Friday night there is a parade, Saturday there’s parades.”

Hartman says in Lake Charles this weekend there’s a Cajun gumbo cook-off, a community zydeco dance, The Krewe of Barkus Parade, and a children’s parade. She says people travel from all over to attend these Mardi Gras celebrations.

“Our casino resorts are such a big draw for out-of-towners to come in and experience Mardi Gras and then so many of the events are free or minimal entry fees.”

Hartman says every year the festivities get bigger and bigger in southwest Louisiana. She says this Mardi Gras the Society of American Travel Writers is coming in for a convention and to join in the celebrations.

“So, I think that with media coverage like that we’re going to continue to see growth in our Mardi Gras festivities.”



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We are expecting Governor John Bel Edwards will issue the call for a special legislative session today. Jeremy Alford, with lapolitics.com, says the call outlines which tax measures the governor will ask legislators to vote on, to help close a 750-million dollar budget deficit for this fiscal year.

"The governor is talking about adding a penny to the state sales tax, increasing the cigarette tax and retooling the personal and corporate income tax brackets," Edwards said.
A three-and-a-half week special session is expected to start on February 14th. Alford says republicans in the legislature are pushing the governor to include in the call, opportunities where significant budget cuts can be made.
"Before conservatives get to the point where they have to raise revenue, they want to first look at ways in which to cut spending, which Governor Edwards is going to do on his own as well," Alford said.  


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The Republican Party of Louisiana has launched their "Red to the Roots" campaign. The initiative is an effort to identify, engage, and register new conservative voters across Louisiana.

Executive Director Jason Dore says although the number of Republicans registering to vote is increasing, they're not comfortable with some recent trends in voter registration.
"Democrat registration has gone down, but at the same time Independent/Other Party has been increasing and we feel like we can't take it for granted."

He says the $2 million dollar campaign will put permanent boots on the ground in Louisiana with a primary focus of registering conservative voters. Dore believes this effort will not only help the GOP in this year's presidential and US Senate elections, but in future elections as well.

"This is really looking forward even to 2019 and the next governor's race. We obviously lost the governor's mansion last year and we want to start now building our grass roots efforts for then."

As of February 1st, there are 1.3 million registered Democratic voters in the state, 828,000 Republicans, and 756,000 Independent/Other Party voters. Dore says it's important to the Republican Party to have as many conservative voters registered in the state as possible.

"Louisiana has a fairly high registration rate, I think like 84-percent of all eligible voters are registered. But we've identified a significant pool of conservative voters who are not registered and that's who we're going to be talking to." 


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Several republicans are running in Louisiana's US Senate race and now we have our first Democrat. New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard, who unsuccessfully ran for Lt. Governor in 2010, has announced she's looking to replace outgoing Senator David Vitter. Pollster Bernie Pinsonat says we'll wait to see if other democrats get in the race.
"I think she got in the race early to keep other democrats out," Pinsonat said. "I think it would be great for her if it's just her."

It's been rumored Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is also eyeing a US Senate candidate. Pinsonat says Fayard's chances of winning will increase if she's the only major democrat in the race. 
"She doesn't have to share money with the national democratic party, she would get to be there candidate that's a big plus for her," Pinsonat said.
Pinsonat says Fayard will get millions of dollars in donations from the legal community and her family has deep pockets too. Pinsonat says Fayard will also need a little help from the republican candidates in the race.  
"Will the republicans help her this year and destroy each other, which made John Bel Edwards possible in becoming governor," Pinsonat said.  


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The state Department of Transportation is surveying an Iberia Parish railroad crossing where five people died in December. DOTD Spokesperson Rodney Mallett says gates were installed over 10 years ago and a “do not stop on tracks” sign was also installed. He says they’ll see if any additional safety features can be added at this intersection and others in Iberia Parish.

“Crash reports certainly play a role but also there is the changing nature of these intersections like increased traffic volumes, or do we need to do a speed study to adjust the speed limits on these routes?”

Mallett says it’s a tragedy when an accident with a train occurs. He reminds drivers to always look out and listen when coming close to a train track.

“Don’t mess around with the train tracks, don’t stop on the train tracks because you can find yourself in a bad situation. We’ve seen people drive around gates believe it or not, don’t do that. Be patient and be aware.”

Mallett says on average there has been one crash per year at this railroad crossing intersection for the last four years. He says their study involves observing traffic volumes, the speed of vehicles crossing the tracks and additional reports.

“It’s going to take probably two or three months for us to probably finish it. After that they’ll probably review that traffic data, make a determination of what they can do for added safety features here.”



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Michelle Southern reporting.
The plea deal entered by former Saints star Darren Sharper in New Orleans to charges he drugged and raped women, is imploding according to a legal filing this week. Sharper pleaded guilty last year and agreed to a nine-year federal prison sentence in a so called "global deal" to resolve all allegations in multiple states.

"I'm not surprised at all. This plea agreement was routinely criticized and his lawyers made a drastic mistake by pleading him guilty in other jurisdictions and not having the Louisiana version firmed up," says legal analyst Tim Meche.

Meche says, even though a written ruling has not been issued, the new filing suggests the judge in New Orleans wouldn't accept the deal. He says this is not good news for Sharper as he's already admitted to being a serial rapist in multiple jurisdictions.

"He's put himself in a box and is going to have to plead guilty," said Meche. "The question is what his sentence will be, and it won't be the slap on the wrist sentence he thought he would get."

The joint motion by Sharper's attorneys and the US Attorney asked the judge to postpone a March 7th trial date.

Meche says it looks like Judge Jane Triche Milazzo isn't committing to the prison terms which means lawyers have to start over and come up with a sentence she'll accept while preparing for trial. He says Sharper is in a precarious situation.

"He's going to have to throw himself to the mercy, of not just this judge but a state judge in Orleans Parish, and I don't think it will be good for him," said Meche.


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Three Louisiana cities are in the Top 10 of the best places to live and work as a moviemaker in 2016. New Orleans ranks number two, Baton Rouge comes in at number three and Shreveport-Bossier is ranked ninth.

Executive Director of Louisiana’s Film Office Chris Stelly says there was concern with recent changes to film tax credit program this industry would go downhill but that’s not the case.

“The state has the inventive program of course but it’s really up to our local cities and parishes to shine and show these filmmakers that we can and we will get it done and we’ll get it done for you.”

Stelly says it’s a testament to how these cities have welcomed the film industry. He says New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport-Bossier all have great infrastructure and staging facilities to invite filming into their cities.

“What these communities have done is they’ve embraced the investors that have built the infrastructure needed. They’ve encouraged their citizens to be film friendly. They’ve made the permitting process very easy.”

Stelly says Louisiana is currently booming with lots of different film projects. He says we have a variety of television shows and movies being filmed in the state.

“Of course NCIS New Orleans, you’ve got Scream, which is the MTV project coming back. You’ve got Scream Queens, you’ve got Salem up in Shreveport.”



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Governor John Bel Edwards released a column today saying cuts to higher ed and health care are not solutions to the budget crisis, but Republican House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cameron Henry says he's more interested in where they can make cuts before raising taxes. Henry believes legislators will look at cuts first and do what they can to reduce the size of government.
"Because that's the best thing we can do for the long-term stability of the state is just simply stop spending more money than we make."

Higher education leaders say the state's colleges and universities can't afford any more budget cuts. Henry says nobody likes budget cuts, but unfortunately they are necessary.

"There's no doubt in my mind that every agency, in some form or fashion, is going to have some reductions. It's whether or not those reductions can get us somewhere between the $750 and $950 million shortfall we're looking at."

He believes legislators will exhaust every measure possible to reduce the size of government before raising taxes. Henry thinks Republican lawmakers are willing to work with Governor Edwards, but they need to know what the detailed budget plans are.

"We want to see the legislation before we can really comment on it. I think that's only common sense before we can take any steps." 


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Michelle Southern reporting.
Pro-life groups are concerned about the views that new Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Rebekah Gee has on abortion. Louisiana Right to Life claims Gee, a gynecologist, is pro-choice and has ties to Planned Parenthood. Gee says she is personally pro-choice, but when it comes to being the head of DHH, she’s pro-family.
"Again I am doing everything I can to make sure that every baby born in this state has a healthy life, and lives to their first birthday and then has a happy after that," said Gee.
Louisiana Right to Life Executive Director Benjamin Clapper says Governor John Bel Edwards named a DHH secretary with stances incompatible with his own pro-life values.
But Gee says she is committed to upholding the views of the governor in this role.
"We discussed in-depth my views and his views and I respect his views and I'm here as his secretary to do his wishes as the governor and will do so," said Gee.
Louisiana Right to life says Gee was named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit backed by Planned Parenthood that dealt with stores making it easier to access the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Gee says one of the most important job’s she’s ever had was to lead an initiative aimed at combating prematurity because it’s the leading cause of infant mortality.
"This governor is pro-life in that regard too. He is pro-life before. He is pro-life after. Let's do everything we can to make sure that folks are healthy and have the best shot at life... A good life once they're born," said Gee.


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Federal money received as part of a nationwide disaster resiliency competition will be used to move Native Americans living in Isle de Jean Charles in Terrebonne Parish to safer ground. The plan is to have the members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian tribe relocated by 2019.

Chief Albert Naquin says they're not sure where their new community will be.
"They're trying to do some studies on properties that can be sustainable for a few years down the road."

Only 320 acres of the island remain and experts believe it will be completely submerged in 50 years. Naquin says US Department of Housing and Urban Development officials toured the island earlier this week.

"They're going back and evaluate what they saw and this and that. That's going to decide on just how to expedite the process."

Naquin says the state received $48 million to relocate the community. He says the Isle is a quiet, peaceful community. Naquin hopes they can keep some of those qualities in their new home.

"Hopefully, wherever we go, I don't think you can go anywhere that's this quiet, but anyway, hopefully it's not too noisy." 


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Governor John Bel Edwards tells teachers there are no plans to cut funding for public schools, despite the state’s difficult budget challenges. Louisiana currently allocates three-point-seven billion dollars for public schools and puts it into the minimum foundation program, which distributes money to school districts.

"I am committed to making sure that first of all, we don't cut the MFP."
But Edwards added that there likely won’t be growth in the funding next fiscal year.
"And at some point soon we're going to have to get back on that dry path where we are growing at least to account for inflation."

Edwards spoke and answered questions from educators and staff at a listening tour sponsored by the Louisiana Association of Educators. He says the current budget deficit of $750 million dollars is the largest ever inherited by any governor in the history of our state, and this is the 8th straight year of shortfall.

"All of the relatively obvious ways that you can produce savings and efficiencies those things have been done, and so we are in a very difficult place."


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LSU Football Coach Les Miles and his staff has brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. ESPN, 24-7 sports and scout-dot-com rank it in the top five. Tiger Rag editor Cody Worshman says LSU is bringing in a bunch of blue chip prospects.

"It's an elite class. They did miss on a few guys today that they were expecting to get, but all-in-all it's a strong class from top to bottom... A lot of depth and four-star guys."
Worsham says the strength of this class is in the secondary as the Tigers signed five talented defensive backs.
"You look at a guy like Kristian Fulton, Savion Smith... Those are both five-star guys. I don't know if there's a better duo coming into college next year."
Worsham says the 2016 class will also provide some quality depth on the defensive line.
"Rashard Lawrence is one of the best tackles in the country. Now you shore up with Ed Alexander and Glen Logan... That's a really good foundation to build a defense on for Dave Aranda in his first year." 


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Michelle Southern reporting.
New York real estate heir Robert Durst pleads guilty to a weapons charge today in New Orleans federal court. Durst was arrested at a hotel on Canal Street in March 2015 when, during a search by the FBI fearing he was about to leave the country, a .38 caliber revolver was found which is illegal for a convicted felon to possess.

Legal analyst Chick Foret says, under a plea bargain, Durst will be sentenced to 85 months in federal prison.

"Then he will be moved to California to proceed with the state charges on the alleged murder of Susan Berman," said Foret.

The judge said he would decide whether or not to accept the plea after receiving a pre-sentencing report. Foret says a seven year, one month sentence for the 72-year-old is a substantial one.

"He looked sickly to me and frail. 85 months is an extensive sentence and I don't know if Robert Durst is going to be able to even do that," said Foret.

Foret says Durst had to make a deal today because his only defense was whether or not the search of the room was valid, but a judge ruled the evidence was admissible. The millionaire's first wife vanished in 1982 and authorities believe he killed Susan Berman to keep her quiet about what she knew.

Foret believes Durst is now looking for closure.

"To be shipped out of New Orleans and not come back to New Orleans for any reason," says Foret. "Now he gets an opportunity to defend himself for the state charges in California."


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The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office has arrested a Melville woman and her two sons in connection with the shooting death of 15-year-old Treyvon Edwards. Capt. Clay Higgins says a 12-year-old has been charged with Negligent Homicide and it’s believed he and Edwards were playing with a gun and it went off accidentally killing Edwards.
"His older brother, who's also 15, was charged with obstruction of justice. Obviously,his charge would indicate in some matter he's participated in some form of obstruction of justice."
The St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office charged 33-year-old Twanda Louray Washington with Obstruction of Justice and two counts of Contributing to the Delinquency of a Juvenile. Higgins says they suspect the mother and other son helped to cover up the crime scene. He says there are details of the case that might never be release.
"I don't know if they were friends and they hung out together, but it's likely that they certainly knew each other... And whether or not they were in the woods, I don't even know if the shooting happened in the woods."
Higgins says the death is hitting hard in the close knit town of Melville. He says this was a tragic unfolding of events that went from bad to worse.
"The lost of the life of a 15-year-old boy who by all accounts was a wonderful young man...and a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy have been certainly affected forever." 


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A new report from LSU's Institute for Public Health and Justice suggests that Louisiana should increase the age for adult imprisonment. The study recommends that 17-year-olds should be treated as juveniles instead of adults after they are arrested.

Lead author, Professor Stephen Phillippi, says this study did not look at heinous and very violent crimes committed by 17-year-olds.
"We were looking at the overall impact of what does arresting 17-year-olds look like and what are the outcome for those kids in Louisiana."

The report suggests raising the age for adult imprisonment in routine situations. The study was compiled at the request of the state legislature. Phillipi says several states have recently put 17-year-olds back in their juvenile system with good results.

"We're not seeing higher incarceration rates. You don't see higher detention rates, for the most part. Probation caseloads certainly fluxuate a little bit."

The report discovered that 17-year-olds sent to adult prison are more likely to to commit additional crimes when they are released. Phillippi says some states actually save money by making this change.

"Connecticut most recently has, just alone looking at the 17-year-old issue, they've projected that they're saving $2 million a year by keeping those kids in the juvenile versus putting them in the adult." 


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