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2nd half of the legislative session begins Monday

The second-half of the legislative session begins Monday. So far lawmakers have talked about issues pertaining to Common Core, guns, abortion the levee lawsuit against oil companies, and chicken boxing. But Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin says the focus will soon turn to the budget.

"It's about to come out of the House Appropriations Committee in a week or so and then you'll see a lot of focus shifted to that." 
One debate that has yet to start in the session deals with the legalization of medical marijuana. Erwin anticipates an interesting debate on the subject. 
"You have some signals that folks are open to it."
The House Education Committee rejected a bill earlier in the session that would have kept Louisiana from going through with the Common Core academic standards. But Erwin doesn't think that debate is over with. He says expanding areas where people can bring concealed handguns is another debate that will continue. 
"By and large most pieces of legislation dealing with guns are going to pass, if they are dealing with expanding access."
There are some issues dead for the session, like a higher minimum wage and lighter sentences for repeat pot possession offenders. 

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An all-time high 2-million people working in Louisiana

For the first time in the state's history, there are two million people employed in Louisiana. That's based on data released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Louisiana Workforce Commission spokesperson Tom Guarisco says there's 35-thousand more people working in this state, compared to this time last year.
"Our private sector has been adding jobs for 42 straight months now," Guarisco said. 
In a statement, Governor Bobby Jindal said surpassing two million working Louisianians is proof that overhauling the ethics code, revamping the workforce training system and cutting taxes is paying off.
The state's unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. Guarisco says that's the best unemployment rate in the south.
"That tells us there's a good flow of people from the unemployment roles to jobs."
Leisure and hospitality had the biggest job gain of all sectors, adding 84-hundred jobs, followed by construction and education and health services. Guarisco says the number of employed should continue to grow in Louisiana. 
"We need 80,000 additional workers through 2016 to support all of the major industrial projects that have already been announced."

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Poll on US Senate race shows Cassidy defeating Landrieu in potential runoff

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a survey conducted by Harper Polling, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu would lose to Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy in a runoff.

"It appears that Landrieu is in for the race of her life," says UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross. "Perhaps for the first time she is entering the home stretch as a definite underdog."

The Republican group American Crossroads paid for the survey. In a primary, 40% of those polled support Landrieu and 35% support Cassidy while Republicans Rob Maness and Rep. Paul Hollis got four and three percent respectively.

But Cassidy would beat Landrieu 47-43 in a runoff.

Cross says the Democratic Senator faces a tough road.

"She was well ahead of her last opponent, John Kennedy, at this stage, polling above 50 or at least close to 50%," Cross said. "Now she's polling quite a bit below that and in the head up race is behind."

18% of respondents said they were undecided for the primary and 10% said the same in a runoff scenario.

Cross says this poll indicates there is support for candidates other than Cassidy and Landrieu, but when you put them together the votes move to Cassidy.

He says things could change if the GOP decides to endorse a candidate.

"If they were to do so, it would probably make Cassidy look even more formidable," said Cross.

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Gas prices are on the rise

If you're on the road this holiday weekend, be prepared to pay around $3.50 a gallon for regular gasoline. That's according to the American Automobile Association. Fuel analyst Don Redman says the price at the pump has increased 20 cents in the past month and gas prices are about eight cents higher than a year ago.

Redman says the rise in gas prices should end, once refineries complete the transition from a winter grade of gasoline to a summer blend.
"We're looking at $3.50 a gallon, potentially could go higher, anywhere between a nickel and ten cents until after the holidays," Redman said. "We expect by early May or late May those prices will come down." 
Redman says gas prices have not been this high since last July. He says the law of supply and demand is behind the higher prices. 

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Report says BP spill still impacting dolphins and sea turtles

With the four-year anniversary of the BP spill, The National Wildlife Federation releases a report that says dolphins and sea turtles are still dying in high numbers.  Senior policy specialist with the federation, Sara Gonzales-Rothi, says the evidence is stronger than ever that dolphins are suffering from effects connected to Deepwater Horizon.

"Dolphins are showing strong evidence of sickness related to BP oil.  So they're anemic, their immune systems are in trouble, they're having lung issues, and their teeth are even falling out."
Gulf-wide, dolphins were having health issues before the spill.  Although some issues are linked to the spill, Gonzales-Rothi says studies continue.
"When you talk gulf-wide, it's less clear at this point.  And so there's more study going on to determine why dolphins gulf-wide have been sicker since before the spill and continuing throughout the spill and in the years prior."
Since the spill the number of sea turtles in the gulf appear to have flat lined.  Roughly 500 stranded sea turtles have been found each year in the area.  Gonzales-Rothi says that number is significant.
"And the reason that the number 500 is significant is that it's very difficult to find stranded sea turtles so that number is higher than usual."
The report also says oyster reproduction remains low and the chemical used to break up the oil may be causing irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna.
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Soda consumption going down nationwide

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a leading beverage industry newsletter, there has been a big decline in soda consumption in the United States and it continues to drop. Denise Holston-West is a dietitian with the LSU Ag Center. She says the Beverage Digest report found that since the mid 90s, soda consumption per person, per year...has gone down about four gallons.

"In 1998 the average American consumed about 51 gallons of soda per year," Holston-West said. "And now we're finding it's about 44 gallons. That doesn't seem like a lot but it is."

Holston-West says people are becoming more aware of what they put in their bodies and recognize drinking sugary drinks could potentially impact their health in the future.

She also says it's getting expensive to have a regular soda drinking habit.

"The average cost of a 12 pack of soda has gone way up and in this economy people are choosing cheaper and healthier options," said Holston-West.

Holston-West says the biggest drop was in the consumption of diet sodas which fell 6 percent last year. She says people are concerned about artificial sweeteners even though they have been found to be safe.

Holston-West says she really hopes parents are starting to get the message that letting their kids drink sodas is a bad idea.

"They are in a time where they're growing, their bones are growing," said Holston-West. "We don't want them to be consuming large amounts of sugar sweetened beverages that actually take calcium out of bones."

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Man collapses and dies while attacking woman with machete in Opelousas

Michelle Southern reporting.
The St. Landry Parish Sheriff's office says a man died as he was apparently trying to attack a woman with a machete in Opelousas. Capt. Megan Vizena says they received a call from the victim who told dispatch a man was on top of her with a machete and that she'd been cut several times.
"What we know right now is that the male subject laid over and died," said Vizena. "It wasn't anything the female died. He sustained no injuries from her."

Vizena says they don't think the victim and the suspect knew each other and the motive for the break-in and attack remains under investigation.

She says the woman sustained several lacerations and is recovering at a local hospital.

Vizena says the victim was asleep when the attack was taking place but woke up and tried to escape.

"And she started fighting him off and in the victims words he just rolled over and died," said Vizena.

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Man arrested for alleged crawfish theft

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have arrested a Crowley man for alleged theft of crawfish and criminal trespassing.  39 year-old Jason Mire was observed allegedly taking crawfish from traps in a pond that did not belong to him. 

  Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries spokesman Adam Einck describes what happened.

"We did receive some complaints and we went out there to check it out and, sure enough, we found this Mr. Mire breaking the law.  He was trespassing and also the theft of the crawfish as well."
LDWF Agents received complaints from crawfish farmers in Acadia Parish about people stealing mudbugs from traps in their ponds.  Einch says crawfish theft is something that the LDWF doesn't take lightly.
"You know we take our crawfish very seriously here in Louisiana and these crawfishermen, you know, this is their livelihood.  So we try to protect the resource and also protect the economy of the crawfish that happens in Louisiana."
 Mire was caught with 31 pounds of crawfish, valued at $62.  Einck says that Mire is facing a pretty stiff penalty.
"Theft of crawfish it could bring up to $500 in fines and six months in jail.  And also for the trespassing charge he's also looking up to $500 in fines and 30 days in jail.  So, basically a total of about $1000 in fines and maybe up to 90 days in jail."

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New poll suggests McAllister likely not horribly damaged by scandal

Jeff Palermo reporting.
51-percent of those polled in the 5th congressional district, say they will not vote for US Representative Vance McAllister this fall. The telephone survey of 13-hundred registered voters was conducted by Pineville pollster David Glascock. ULM Political Science Professor Joshua Stockley says McAllister should be encouraged by the poll.

"Clearly Representative McAllister has been damaged by the scandal," said Stockley. "But the numbers tell us while he's been damaged he hasn't necessarily been destroyed or knocked out."

The pollster says the survey was paid for by "political activists." It also asked voters who they would vote for in a run-off election between McAllister and state senator Neil Riser.

McAllister lost by 12-percentage points. Stockley says there's time for the so-called kissing Congressman to rebound before the November election.

"Representative McAllister still stands a good chance of being re-elected, even if he runs against a formidable opponent as Senator Riser would be," Stockley said.

The poll comes out on the heels of a video that shows McAllister, a father of five, kissing a staffer that was also married.

Stockley says the poll shows many people are not happy with McAllister, but there's time to make a political comeback.

"53% said there is nothing Representative McAllister can do to gain trust or re-gain trust in him," said Stockley. "I really do suspect that number would change over time. This poll is only a week out of a major scandal."

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LSP: Man arrested for 6th offense DWI for "drug driving"

Michelle Southern reporting.
State police say a Denham Springs man who is just 29-years-old was arrested for 6th offense DWI Wednesday. Trooper Jared Sandifer says the warrant came down following a serious injury crash that was caused by Lee Edward Easley in February in Livingston Parish.

He says Easly hit a car head on and both drivers were sent to the hospital.
"Medical professionals over there were able to obtain toxicology samples from him because troopers felt that he may have been impaired at the time of the crash," Sandifer said. "Basically those toxicology samples came back and showed that he did have several narcotics in his system on the day of the crash."

He says this was not the first time Easley was arrested for driving under the influence.

"When our troopers were doing their investigation they learned that Mr. Easley had been charged 5 prior times for DWI," Sandifer said. "That's what made this his 6th offense."

Sandifer says they obtained an arrest warrant through the 21st JDC and charged Easley with DWI 6th offense, reckless operation, 1st degree vehicular negligent injuring and possession of marijuana.

He was arrested at his home and booked into the Livingston Parish jail.

Sandifer it's a shame someone so young has committed so many crimes.

"There is a huge problem out there not just with drunk driving but drug driving as well," said Sandifer.

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ASPSO: Man shoots wife and 12 year old son then jumps into river

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Ascension Parish Sheriff's office is currently investigating a case in which they believe a man murdered his wife and 12-year-old son in Gonzales, then jumped into the Mississippi River. Chief Deputy Tony Bacala says 44-year-old Ronald Green called someone at the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's office around 2am this morning.
(pictured: Ronald Green)

"Then said, 'I just killed my wife and son and I'm going to jump off the Mississippi River Bridge,'" Bacala said. "We sent deputies to the home where they found the front door had been broken in and they went inside and found Dewona Green and their 12-year-old son both dead, they'd been shot."

He says soon after they located Green's car on top of the Veterans Memorial Bridge in St. John Parish.

Bacala said the Green's had recently been involved in domestic violence situations.

"And last week we assisted Dewona in getting a restraining order against Ronald Green," said Bacala. "He was not supposed to come near the home or contact her. Obviously it didn't end well."

Bacala says the victims were found in a bedroom of the home and he believes they were shot shortly before Green made the call.

He added, "This makes no sense at all. You just sit back and wonder how someone could do something so horrible."

Bacala said the investigation is ongoing as Green has not yet been located but there is currently a warrant out for his arrest for 2 counts of first degree murder.

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Elmer's Easter candy sales hopping right along!

Michelle Southern reporting.
A must-have for Louisiana Easter baskets is a candy that's been around over 160 years and is manufactured in Ponchatoula -- Elmer's Chocolate's. President Rob Nelson says the Easter Bunny has been filling baskets with Gold Brick Eggs since 1936 and Heavenly Hash Eggs have been around since 1923.

"Those are certainly the staples down here for the Easter diet in south Louisiana," said Nelson.

The company started in New Orleans in 1955 as a pastry business but eventually became Elmer Candy Corporation.

Nelson says Elmer's candy sales so far are up over 10% from last year. He says though the chocolates are extremely popular every year, the boost in sales can be attributed to the length of the Easter season.

"It always starts right after Valentine's Day and this year is a late Easter," Nelson says. "The weather has also been nice and it's got people out buying their Easter candy."

Heavenly Hash is their second most popular Easter candy but the Gold Brick Eggs and their different flavors top the charts every year.

Nelson says the Gold Brick Egg started being sold in 1936 for a dime around the time when candy bars were going for five cents.

"Nobody thought it would sell but it just took off right away and we've been moving along ever since," Nelson said.

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Coastal expert responds to BP's move to end active clean-up efforts along the coast

The advisor to Governor Jindal on coastal affairs is concerned about BP's announcement that the Coast Guard is ending active clean-up efforts on Louisiana's coast. The oil company makes the announcement just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Jerome Zeringue says oiling of Louisiana's coastline will continue.

"We continue to experience re-oiling on a daily basis," Zeringue "BP must continue to respond to this oil and we are going to be experiencing oil on our shoreline for many years to come." 
Zeringue says Louisiana has a monitoring agreement with BP, which means they call on the Coast Guard whenever oil is spotted on the coast. He says it's disappointing active operations have concluded, but at least BP is not abandoning Louisiana completely. 
"We just need to make sure that we do what we can to address those issues and concerns and those potential long term impacts."

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House education committee approves the "Merry Christmas" bill

The House Education Committee approves a bill that gives public schools the authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display. The author of the measure is Shreveport Representative Alan Seabaugh, who says it's the Merry Christmas bill.

"The point of the bill is that you don't have to call it a holiday tree, it can be a Christmas tree and the Supreme Court said repeatedly that's okay," Seabaugh said.
Seabaugh says he gets calls every year from public schools, asking if they can have a Christmas play or put up a Christmas tree.
But he says schools are still now allowed to promote one religion over another. The bill heads to the House floor.

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ULM named most underrated college in Louisiana by Business Insider

Michelle Southern reporting.
Business Insider Magazine has named The University of Louisiana at Monroe the most underrated college in the state. ULM President Dr. Nick Bruno said the publication chose one college from each state which exhibited great academics, high acceptance rates and strong in state student populations.

He says he's known for a long time that ULM is the best kept secret in Louisiana's higher education system.

"It's also exciting to see the other notable schools from other states that also made the list along with ULM," said Bruno.

Others on the list include Clemson, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and the University of Florida.

Bruno says it's very rewarding to see such a notable publication recognize that ULM is an institution that has a lot to offer students seeking a quality education.

He says he's told his staff that bragging ends when fact begins.

"In many cases we always like to think that the facts spoke for themselves and this recognition is identified on facts," Bruno said.

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State lawmakers do not like the idea of armed school teachers

Members of the House Criminal Justice committee shot down a proposal to allow some teachers and administrators to carry a gun on school campuses. Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton said no way.
"They (teachers) are not going to have the training that law enforcement has," Norton said. "There is no way they are going to qualified, they are teachers."

 Chalmette Representative Ray Garofalo is the bill's author. He says teachers and administrators would need a concealed handgun permit and undergo training before they are allowed to bring a weapon to school. He says the bill's main goal is to make criminals think twice before going on a killing spree at a school.
"When we have a sign out front that says gun free zone, it's like a welcome sign," Garofalo said. "This is the place you want to go, if you want to kill as many people as possible before the police arrive to stop you."
New Iberia Representative Terry Landry, is a former State Police commander, and he also voiced his opposition to Garofalo's proposal. Landry says teachers chose their profession to be teachers and not police officers.
"We are putting our children and community at risk when we just blatantly give the authority for people to carry guns in schools," Landry said.
Garofalo saw there was enough opposition that he voluntarily deferred the bill and will try to come up with another proposal. 
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Man shot and killed by police after attacking his mother

Michelle Southern reporting.
State Police say they are investigating an officer involved shooting for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Department in which a male suspect, who was found attacking his mother was fatally shot by law enforcement.

 Trooper Greg Marchand says deputies responded to a domestic disturbance at a home in Hammond around 12:30pm Tuesday.
"Upon arrival deputies encountered an armed suspect who was actively engaging in a female victim who we later determined was his mother," said Marchand.

Marchand says the victim, 70-year-old Barbara Nichols, called the sheriff's office to report her son was apparently trying to kill her.

He says first responders arrived to find 48-year-old Michael Nichols brutally assaulting his mother with a weapon.

"And because of the threat of imminent danger and loss of life to the victim, the officers had to use lethal force and they fatally wounded the suspect," Marchand said.

Marchand says the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene by the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner.

Barbara Nichols was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. Motive has not yet been determined.
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Two bodies found in burned out vehicle in Vermilion Parish

Two bodies were found inside a vehicle that was on fire in Vermilion Parish. Sheriff deputies made the gruesome discovery at around one o' clock this morning. Major Darryl LeBlanc, with the Vermilion Parish Sheriff's Deputies says it will take awhile before they are able to positively ID the victims.

"I can tell you that the bodies were burned beyond recognition," Leblanc said. "Not able to tell race or sex." 
LeBlanc says at this time the deaths are considered suspicious, but there are more questions than answers than at this time. He says more clues will be developed, when an autopsy on the bodies is completed. 
The Acadiana Crime Lab, State Fire Marshal's Office and State Police is assisting in the investigation.

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McAllister to spend Easter holiday with wife and family

Embattled US Representative Vance McAllister will not make any public appearances this week, but he will return to work in Washington D-C when Congress returns from a two-week holiday recess. That's according to a statement released by his office.

McAllister has not been seen publicly since video was made public that showed him kissing a staffer that was also married. In a written statement,  his office said McAllister is with his wife and family for the rest of the Easter recess.
Several republicans, including Governor Bobby Jindal and party chairman Roger Villere, have called for McAllister's resignation. But publisher of lapolitics.com John Maginnis says McAllister should finish out his term, which expires at the end of this year. 
"I think the people of the 5th Congressional District don't deserve to have two Congressmen quit on them in one term," Maginnis said. "Now whether or not Vance McAllister runs for re-election that's another matter."
McAllister was elected last fall, when Rodney Alexander resigned and accepted the job as Secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Measure to scrap Louisiana's anti-sodomy law fails on House floor

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that would take the unenforceable anti-sodomy law off Louisiana's books did not pass on the House floor Tuesday. The legislation by Baton Rouge Representative Patricia Smith only got 27 yes votes and needed 53 to pass. Denham Springs Representative Valarie Hodges spoke in opposition of the measure.
(pictured: DS Rep. Valarie Hodges)

"This is an established law that protects children," says Hodges. "It also protects minors and protects all of us from public displays of indecency."

Anti-Sodomy laws were invalidated nationwide by the US Supreme Court in 2003. But Hodges says these rules have been in place in Louisiana for over 200 years and she was not elected to "rubber stamp" decisions made by the Supreme Court.

"If that was the case we could all go home. We're here to upload the laws of what's right and wrong," Hodges said.

Other opponents have argued that making sodomy technically legal in Louisiana puts juveniles at risk and could potentially expose children to indecency.

Smith says police don't need to be wasting time entrapping people in parks and making arrests for a crime that is not punishable.

"Our law enforcement are people that you hire in your cities and parishes to protect you," Smith said. "And in order for them to protect you they should not be relying on unconstitutional laws when they can't even prosecute the individuals that they bring forward."

The bill failed by a vote of 67-27.

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