The second special session ended a week ago today, and lawmakers proposed several constitutional amendments to be decided by voters in November. President of the Public Affairs Research Council, Robert Travis Scott, says there will be six changes on the ballot in the fall. He says one of them would change the state’s corporate income taxes.
“It would no longer allow corporations to take a deduction on their income tax for the federal taxes that they pay,” Scott said.
Scott says in exchange, companies would get a lower flat tax. He says the highest corporate tax is currently about 8%, and this would lower that to about 6%. He says another amendment would affect those who have lost a spouse in the line of duty.
“One of the constitutional amendments basically says you can get a property tax exemption if you are the widow of someone who has died in the line of duty,” Scott said.
Scott says one proposal would no longer allow the legislature to set tuition at colleges and universities, and that power would go to higher education boards instead. He says some of the amendments are rather technical, so voters need to do their homework.
“This is one of those times when you don’t want to go into the voting booth not prepared. You want to have some idea of what these amendments are actually going to do and not do,” Scott said.
A statewide campaign begins today that seeks to reduce drunk driving this Fourth of July weekend. Jessica Bedwell with the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission says the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign will include multiple enforcement efforts aimed at keeping drunk drivers off the road. She says this risky behavior can result in more than just a DWI.
“Buzzed driving is drunk driving. So driving after consuming any amount of alcohol can lead to disastrous consequences, and we all have to do our part to prevent these tragedies,” Bedwell said.
Bedwell says they also ask people to eliminate distractions while behind the wheel and focus on driving safely. She says they want everyone to enjoy the weekend, but they ask that they have a plan to get home safely before the party begins.
“We ask that they designate a sober driver or use public transportation, and if you see a drunk driver on the road, please contact police,” Bedwell said.
Bedwell says they are expecting increased traffic on the roads this weekend. She says there are usually more cases of drunk driving when the holiday falls on a day that gives people a long weekend.
“During the 2014 extended Fourth of July weekend, we had 112 people injured and 8 people killed in vehicle crashes involving alcohol,” Bedwell said.
Starting today through Monday, more Americans than ever are expected to be hitting the road for the 4th of July weekend. AAA Spokesperson Don Redman says close to 43 million people will be traveling over the holiday, which is five million more than Memorial Day.
He says it’s going to be a very busy time on the roadways.
“The most popular mode of transportation of course is the vehicle with about 84% of everyone who is going to be travelling this holiday by wheels. So that makes about 36 million people going to be on the road this holiday.”
Redman says the average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in the state is $2.10, we haven’t seen prices this low since 2005. He says the entire country has saved about 60 billion dollars that would normally have gone into the gas tank.
“You’re seeing people, especially families, welcome relief at the gas pump and they’re able to use that money for their vacations and other expenses.”
Redman says if you’re traveling by car try to leave before and after peak times. He says even though many people are hitting the roads over the long weekend, some Americans are using alternate means of transportation.
“8% are traveling by airline, and almost about 8% by other means of transportation, which means trains and buses but also means cruises. So it’s well divided.”
Three of the major Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter appeared at a debate in Baton Rouge to discuss why they should be elected on November 8th. Congressman Charles Boustany says he wants to create a better sense of trust between the people and government. He says it’s time to get serious about solving Louisiana’s problems.
“I’m an experienced at this, it’s not a time to put a rookie in this position. It’s time to put somebody who has had a record of getting results and who can really ensure that Louisiana has a leadership seat at the table.
Democrat Foster Campbell apologized for not being able to attend the debate. Congressman John Fleming says he has a record of fighting for what the people of Louisiana want. He says it’s time for Washington to start listening.
“We’re going to turn this country in the right direction and we’re going to see lower taxes, we’re going to see a new healthcare system, and we’re going to see 4.5% -5% growth rates.”
State Treasurer John Kennedy says government is too big and plans to give the power to the people. He says he is strong enough to go to Washington and take his country back.
“I believe that American’s best days lie ahead, we just have to remember who we are as Americans. I’m not part of the club in Baton Rouge, I know that’s a shocker for you, I won’t be part of the club in Washington DC.
Today the Louisiana Interstate Highway System turns 60 years old and the Department of Transportation has released a state of the interstate report. DOTD Secretary Sean Wilson says our system is very valuable, effective but sometimes over capacity. He says if we want to keep up our interstate we’re going to have to make some improvements.
“If we want to invest and maintain this system and leave a network of connectivity, we’re going to have to make some serious investment.”
But Wilson says we have an interstate system we can be proud of. He says only 26% of the pavement is in poor or mediocre condition.
“The pavement condition of our interstate is in very good condition, not perfect. We’ve got several stretches that are in need of repair that we have concentrated on and we’re going to continue to work and maintain.”
Wilson says they’re going to work on improving parts of I-10 and I-20 to make room for more travelers. He says travel has increased by 43% on Louisiana’s interstates from 2000 to 2014.
“We are growing very quickly in this state and the numbers show it, we are number 4 now in the country for vehicle miles traveled.”
Inspector General Stephen Street has announced that a film company claimed over $1 million in fraudulent tax exemptions in Louisiana. Street says Horizon Entertainment and Productions claimed excess expenses in the 2011 filming of The Sean Payton Show and the documentary Saintsational.
“There were numerous expenses that were submitted to the state of Louisiana that were either inflated, undocumented, or in some cases never occurred at all,” Street said.
Street says Horizon performed 263 online wire transfers in one day. He says the amount was never more than $39-thousand, but they did it enough times that it amounted to over $2 million in transfers, which they claimed as expenses in their tax credit application.
“I liken that to taking money out of your right pocket, putting it in your left pocket, and then claiming to the state of Louisiana that you spent that money,” Street said.
Street says his office is recommending additional changes to the state’s film tax credit program to prevent fraudulent claims because Louisiana cannot afford it.
“The state has very little revenue and certainly not enough to go around to fund these basic services, and we can’t let in this case over a million dollars in tax credits were issued that never should have been issued,” Street said.
An armed robbery at a Raising Cane’s in Kenner left a 21-year-old dead from multiple stab wounds. Police say the robbery happened just before 1:30 am. Kenner Police Chief Michael Glaser says two Cane’s employees were confronted by armed men when they took the trash out after closing.
“They were confronted by what we believe are two black males wearing gray hoodies. They produced what appeared to be some type of knives and walked the two employees back into the rear door of the business,” Glaser said.
Glaser says after the robbery, witnesses report two black men in gray hoodies fled the scene in a vehicle that was waiting outside. He says the victim is identified as 21-year-old Taylor Friloux.
“A 21-year-old shift manager, a female, was stabbed multiple times, at least one time outside and then multiple times while inside,” Glaser said.
Friloux was taken to a local hospital in critical condition, and she later died. It’s reported that one suspect is in custody after the Cane’s employees identified 23-year-old Josh Every as possibly being involved in the robberystabbing. Glaser says police are still looking for other suspects, as there were several people involved in this crime.
“At least two black males wearing gray hoodies. We think there may have been a third person operating some type of vehicle. We’re still trying to identify that vehicle,” Glaser said.
State Police say an off duty Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Deputy is facing a DWI. Trooper Jesse LaGrange says Tara Whitney was pulled over in Houma after an officer noticed she wasn’t wearing her seat belt. He says the trooper noticed an open alcohol container and Whitney showed signs of impairment so a field sobriety test was conducted.
“At State Police we take a firm stance against events like this. We want our highways to be safe and whenever we come across someone who is impaired on the highway we take the necessary action.”
LaGrange says Lieutenant Whitney is a juvenile officer and has been placed on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. He says Whitney faces multiple charges.
“She was arrested for a DWI first offense, having an open alcoholic container inside the vehicle as it was observed by the arresting Trooper and no seat belt.”
US Senator Bill Cassidy has filed legislation that seeks to help prepare for potential health emergencies, like outbreaks of Ebola and Zika. The proposal by would wave some red-tape regulations and authorize funding if a public health emergency is declared. Cassidy, a doctor, says this could help contain outbreaks.
“If you respond early, proactively with science behind you, you can cut the knees out from beneath a potential epidemic,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy says the threat for a health emergency is looming, as another Zika case has been confirmed in Louisiana. The measure would waive contract requirements that would allow, for example, the Centers for Disease Control to enter mosquito control contracts without getting the dozens of signatures that are typically required. Cassidy says similar waivers are issued to other agencies during emergencies.
“Efficiency and effort is paramount, and we think that the appropriate, timely, proactive response requires the waiving of those procedures, just as FEMA waives when there’s a natural disaster,” Cassidy said.
The bill would also authorize about $1.5 billion to control the outbreak when a health emergency is declared. Cassidy says this will allow response agencies to take appropriate action quickly.
“It’s not a blank check. It’s not open-ended, but what it is, is the ability to get going in a timely fashion, proactive as opposed to walking around hat in hand,” Cassidy said.
People making plans for their Fourth of July celebrations like to head to Louisiana for the festivities. According to WalletHub, the New Orleans is the third best city for Independence Day parties. Jill Gonzales with WalletHub says the study looked at entertainment and food options, attractions and activities, and weather forecast. She says New Orleans did particularly well in the food category.
“It was second when it came to the entertainment and food options there. When it comes to food choices per capita, it has some of the highest numbers in the country,” Gonzales said.
Seattle and Minneapolis were the only two cities to top New Orleans on the list. The study found the average household will spend around $370 on their celebration. Gonzales says the cost of partying in New Orleans for the holiday weekend was lower than other cities.
“When you’re looking at how much things cost, whether it’s a Fourth of July party or a fireworks show, often times there is little to no cost for that, which ranked better than a lot of other cities on the list,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales says New Orleans ranked number one for the number of festivals and events taking place this weekend, many of which are free. She says the only category that New Orleans did not fare well in was the forecast because of higher temperatures and a chance of rain.
“The forecasted precipitation for the Fourth of July, that Monday exactly there’s about a 35% chance. We’d like that to look more like zero,” Gonzales said.
After waiting for more than 10 years, today is the groundbreaking ceremony for the site of the permanent VA clinic in Lake Charles. Chairman of the Lake Charles Mayor’s Armed Forces Commission Jim Jackson says he’s looking forward to finally having a clinic that will help around 10,000 veterans in the southwest Louisiana area. He says it’s time we looked at the long range issue of care for the men and women who fought for our freedoms.
“Take a look at what we’re going to have in the clinic, we’re going to have at least four doctors in there. We need to make absolutely certain we have some mental health for our veterans.”
Jackson says mental health treatment is very important because about 22 veterans kill themselves a day. He says they’re looking forward to the completion of the 24-thousand square foot facility.
“We’re really hopeful of some of the things that the VA is going to put in there with it. We’re looking forward to having part-time dental care, eye care, and hearing.”
Jackson says the project is estimated to take 12 months to complete. He says the country has promised to take care of our veterans and this facility will do just that.
“The soldiers stood out there and made this country free and kept this country free and we need to remember that.”
A former Eunice police officer is facing charges of obstruction and malfeasance in office, for allegedly cussing out someone he was arresting and threatening to beat him up. Major Eddie Thibodaux with the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office says Lt. Varden Guillory became irate with Heath Bergeron, a domestic violence suspect, when Bergeron came in to make his statement.
“While he was walking to the booking room, Lt. Guillory allegedly tore his statement up and said ‘You’re not going to use this blanking statement’ and he said ‘If I was not in uniform, I’d rip your head off,’” Thibodaux said.
Thibodaux says Guillory was upset that Bergeron got his friend to help him write the statement, because he wasn’t a very good speller. He says Guillory then arrested Bergeron for domestic abuse battery, without getting the proper information first.
“The Lieutenant allegedly did not speak to him, nor the witness, nor the kids. Just booked this man on felony battery charges,” Thibodaux said.
Guillory left the Eunice Police Department after the incident. Thibodaux says after completing the investigation into the battery, Bergeron’s ex-wife was later arrested for domestic abuse, as she was the alleged perpetrator. The two had apparently gotten into an argument over what time they would meetup to exchange their children on Father’s Day. He says Guillory has also been arrested.
“Lt. Guillory was in violation of obstruction of justice, meaning he tore the statement up and didn’t put in a report and malfeasance in office by not doing a complete investigation,” Thibodaux said.
Tuesday’s Mega Millions jackpot has shot up to whopping $390-million. Louisiana Lottery Spokesperson Kimberly Chopin says this jackpot has been rolling since March and is the fourth highest Mega Millions jackpot ever. She says it’s been two years since we’ve seen Mega Millions reach this level.
“With a cash value of $265.4 million, this is a big one for Mega Millions.”
Chopin says unlike Powerball that costs two dollars to play, Mega Millions only costs a dollar so it takes a little while for the jackpots to build up. She says the biggest jackpot was reached in 2012.
“I believe we’ve reached over $600 million was the biggest Mega Millions jackpot ever.”
This is the largest prize offered in Mega Million since March 2014 when two tickets shared a 414 million dollar prize. Chopin says a lot of people don’t know that Mega Millions has a megaplier function, which can multiply your prize up to five times by adding an extra dollar. But she says there is more than one way to win.
“Mega Millions offers lots of different ways to win, including a prize just for matching the yellow megaball. So check your tickets immediately after the drawing.”
The first Louisiana dolphin to be rescued and released into the wild is thriving. Audubon Nature Institute Stranding and Rescue Coordinator Gabriella Vazquez says the young dolphin was found by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in October of 2015, stranded on the beach in Grand Isle.
She says when they tried to release him back into the Gulf, he showed no initiative to swim, so they made the decision to rescue the calf.
“About six months later, we got to release this dolphin. This is the first time in the history of Louisiana that we have been able to rescue, rehab, and release a dolphin.”
Vazquez says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration required Audubon scientists to monitor the dolphin in the wild for six weeks after he was released into Barataria Bay. She says all their testing proves the young dolphin, named Octavius, is doing great in the wild.
“He was satellite tagged, we had to track him for six weeks, we had to go out on a boat and get eyes on him. Typically after six weeks, NOAA deems it a successful release and that’s where we are.”
Vazquez says it’s great to see how all of their hard work paid off. She says Octavius has been spotted swimming with other dolphins in areas where there is lots of food available.
“He’d poke his little head up and look at us and swim off. He’s exhibiting normal behaviors and it seems like everything is going in a positive direction.”
A fatal crash in Iberville Parish took the life of a 9-year-old and left several others with injuries. Trooper Bryan Lee with State Police says 27-year-old Tommie Killough was attempting to pass another vehicle in a no passing zone.
“Those vehicles collided, and Killough’s vehicle ran off the roadway and began to overturn, ejecting 9-year-old Asha Cooper, and she was deceased at the scene,” Lee said.
Lee says Killough hit 34-year-old Courtney Alvarez’s vehicle. He says Alvarez and her passengers were properly restrained and not injured. But he says Killough’s passengers were not restrained, including Asha Cooper, because there were more people in Killough’s 5 passenger SUV than there were seatbelts.
“There were 6 more juveniles, besides the deceased juvenile, and one other adult inside of that vehicle,” Lee said.
Lee says Killough’s other passengers were taken to a local hospital with moderate to severe injuries. He says Killough is still in the hospital, but once she gets out, she will face multiple charges.
“She’ll be facing charges of negligent homicide, passing in a no passing zone, driving under suspension, and she will receive multiple counts of failure to use child restraints and seatbelt violation,” Lee said.
There have been reports stating the Saints will not hold mini-camp at the Greenbrier in West Virginia given the recent flooding the state has seen. Saints sideline reporter Kristian Garic says the NFL team has every intention of beginning camp on July 27th in at the resort but they’re still in a bit of a holding pattern.
“I could see them conceivably starting perhaps training camp down here and then going to West Virginia to hold a portion of training camp.”
Garic says the main thing is getting the Saints out of the extreme south Louisiana heat. He says there is a possibility the team might go to Foxborough before pre-season to practice with the Patriots.
“Until they get a better grasp of just how much damage there is to the infrastructure up there and how capable the Greenbrier Resort is in general of hosting the Saints then I think you’ll see a decision made about a week or two before training camp.”
Garic says the Saints played a huge part in boosting morale in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and believes they would do the same in West Virginia.
“I’m sure they feel a bit obligated to return the favor, they’ve always been a big community oriented team so I think that’ll be a part of the decision making process once they decide definitively what they’re doing.”
People on both sides of the Texas abortion Supreme Court ruling are sounding off on the issue. The ruling overturned a law that restricted women’s access to abortion clinics. That’s according to Executive Director of the National Organization for Women in Louisiana, Angela Adkins. She hopes this paves the way for the similar law in Louisiana to be struck down.
“It gives us a lot of hope that the same type of bill that is currently enjoined by the Supreme Court for Louisiana will also be found unconstitutional,” Adkins said.
Attorney General Jeff Landry says his office will continue to fight for Louisiana’s pro-life laws. But Adkins says challenging the ruling to keep this law on the books will be an expansive fight and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“This is just ridiculous, beyond ridiculous, to keep wasting taxpayer money on something that is a constitutional right for women to have,” Adkins said.
President of the Louisiana Family Forum, Gene Mills, says he is disappointed with the ruling. He says this ruling put abortion clinic profits over the safety of women.
“This creates a blanket immunity for abortion providers to provide a lesser degree of care for the young women that they’re seeing, and I think that’s a travesty,” Mills said.
Mills says the reason behind overturning the Texas law was that the purpose of it was to shut down half the abortion clinics in the state. But he says that is not the case with the Louisiana law, so he hopes it will stay on the books.
“I’m hopeful that Louisiana will continue to be the most pro-life state in the nation. We sent five pro-life laws to the Supreme Court. They may keep knocking them down, but we’re going to keep sending them things to keep them busy,” Mills said.
Many people are likely to be out on the water for the 4th of July holiday but should be cautious because the flesh-eating bacteria, vibrio, has been found along the Gulf of Mexico coast stretching from Texas to the Florida panhandle.
Biology Professor at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Dr. Gregory Buck says the bacteria typically lives in salt water and thrives when the water is warm, so it’s only going to continue to grow. He say vibrio can enter the body through eating raw shellfish or an open wound.
“Going to get pain in the region, it’s going to be discolored and then you can actually start getting fluid filled blisters, they can be bloody, you skin starts dying.”
There are about 10 to 15 cases of infection from the vibrio vulnificus bacteria in Louisiana, annually. Buck says anyone can contact the bacteria but some people are at a greater risk.
“Those persons who have liver disease, kidney disease, they’re diabetic, they’ve had cancer or they have very low levels of stomach acid.”
But Buck says this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t go to the beach, just be cautious when entering the water with open cuts or scratches and when eating raw oysters or clams. He says if you believe you have the vibrio bacteria, go straight to the doctor because it can be life threatening.
“But there are antibiotics that can be used to successfully treat vibrio, it will not go away on its own.”
Just in time for the soaring summer temperatures, Cleco utility customers are getting a break on their power bills. Cleco spokesperson Robbyn Cooper says beginning July 1, customers will start seeing a credit on their bills, averaging $475.
“This credit will be on the July bill, and it will roll over each month until the credit is exhausted,” Cooper said.
The credit comes as a result of the Pineville-based utility company’s sale to a foreign investment group, when the Public Service Commission required the company to meet a long list of requirements to get the deal approved. Cooper says they want customers to benefit from the sale too.
“This is just one way that we’re showing our commitment to our customers and ensuring that they receive a direct benefit from our transaction,” Cooper said.
Opponents to the sale will have negative impacts on Celco’s nearly 300-thousand customers, like seeing their rates go up over time. But Cooper says customer shouldn’t notice a change in their service.
“Our headquarters will remain in Pineville, Louisiana, and our customers will continue to enjoy the same quality customer service and reliable power delivery that they’ve experienced in the past,” Cooper said.
Governor John Bel Edwards has made changes to a program that gives manufactures significant tax exemptions. His executive order lets local governing bodies have a say in how the exemptions are handed out, and requires companies applying to show they are creating or retaining jobs.
Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson says,
“When industry is moving into a parish, utilizing the roads, the schools, the water and putting a demand in that parish, it seemed more appropriate for that parish to have a voice.”
Pierson says before the executive order there was no requirement for a company to make a commitment to jobs or investment. He says all the company had to do was prove to be a manufacturer to receive the industrial tax exemption.
“This closes that detail element and requires that the company say we’re going to create X number of net new jobs, we’re going to make this kind of investment, this is what we’re bringing to the table.”
Pierson says LED wants to make sure we’re attracting manufacturing companies that are good for the economy, local governments and communities. He says 38 other states give local oversight on the local exemption process.
“Now, perhaps Ascension Parish is in competition with St. James Parish. All the opportunity that’s there remains there, it’s simply we’ve added to the players at the table.”