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New DHH program promotes a healthier Louisiana

The State Department of Health and Hospitals sets up a program that encourages Louisiana residents to take control of their health.  The program is called "Own Your Own Health".  It's a three month wellness challenge that can assist residents in living a healthier lifestyle.  

Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Director Rudy Macklin says you can participate as an individual or part of a team.
"And they can choose one of two challenges, the weight loss challenge or the physical activity steps challenge.  It's like two challenges in one."

The challenges are meant to motivate Louisianians to make small daily steps in creating and maintaining a healthier lifestyle.  You can sign up at oyohla-dot-com.  To help keep participants on-track, Macklin says a daily e-mail will be sent.

"Here's your meals for the day:  here's your breakfast for the day, your lunch, and your dinner.   And here are the physical activities we recommend that you do based on your age.  Because we have a nutrition plan based on age."

They're also offering prizes for participants who log-in and update their progress.  Macklin says another aspect of OYOH is called "Own Your Own Health Now" which helps you make the correct choices regarding your own wellness.

"All those things to do with health care, in general, we show you how to manage your health care and how to, basically, just take responsibility for your own health." 
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Louisiana's budget woes get worse

Falling oil prices will result in an 103-million dollar reduction in spending this fiscal year by state government. That determination was made by the Revenue Estimating Conference, after hearing from the chief economist for the Louisiana legislature, Greg Albrecht.

"We've got further weakness in oil prices and a little bit better picture about oil prices but the news is bad," said Albrecht. 

And based on economists projections, the Revenue Estimating Conference has increased the budget deficit for next fiscal year by another 203-million dollars to one-point-six billion. Albrecht says weak oil prices are to blame for these falling oil prices.

"We're going to end this fiscal year and move into the next fiscal year at an oil price that is half of what we ended it in last fiscal year and moved into this fiscal year with," said Albrecht. 

The 103-million dollar deficit for this fiscal year means, the Jindal administration will be forced to make cuts in the next few weeks.

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ATM skimming scam along I-10 corridor

State Police are assisting in an investigation looking into an ATM scheme where customer's debit card numbers and pins may have been compromised along the I-10 corridor. Whitney Bank issued a statement acknowledging they found devices called "skimmers" on ATM machines. 

"Right now we have several ongoing investigations including many local jurisdictions and also the Secret Service which is now getting involved because it is across many jurisdictions and even across some of our neighboring states," said State Police Sgt Nick Manale.
Whitney bank says as an extra precaution they have deactivated and reissued about 71- hundred debit cards. Manale says people need to be watching their accounts and statements to check for possible fraudulent charges.
"We suspect that it is a group of individuals who are working some major cities along the I-10 corridor but the biggest message right now for our listeners is to be aware of the activity going on in their own account," said Manale.
Manale says "skimmers" are placed to look like they are part of the ATM. He says these devices steal some of the bar code information off of card as well as the PIN number entered into the machine.
"It may look like something that is added to the credit card slot or a piece of the ATM that may or may not look right and it's something you can immediately report to your bank and they can look into," said Manale.
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Entergy opens new power plant

Entergy cut the ribbon on a new power plant in suburban New Orleans that company officials say will reduce fuel costs and produce reliable and affordable power for Louisiana customers.

Entergy Spokesperson Mike Burns says Ninemile 6 is already using 30 percent less fuel than other natural gas combustion plants.
"Well the unit is projected to reduce fuel costs by about 50 million dollars in 2015 and another 69 million dollars in 2016," Burns said.
This is the first power plant Entergy has opened in Louisiana in 30 years. Burns says Ninemile 6 was completed under budget and ahead of time.
"The plant was finished several months ahead of schedule and at a cost of about 655 million dollars, substantially below the original budget of 721 million dollars," Burns said.
The plant helps Louisiana's economy by creating more jobs. Burns says Entergy plans to keep improving and modernizing their services and plants.
"We have a lot of older resources that need to either be upgraded or replaced and that is Entergy's plan moving forward," Burns said.
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Study finds increase in reports of falls among the elderly

A University of Michigan Medical School study finds there has been an almost 30-percent increase in the report of falls among the elderly since the late 90s.  Dr. Cathi Fontenot, with LSU Health Internal Medicine, feels the increase could be, in part, due to older people maintaining higher levels of activity that make them susceptible to falls.

"Like walking and cycling and thinking that it's okay to continue to clean the gutters because they're in good health and can still get on ladders."

She says older adult's higher activity levels are a result that they are generally feeling better and in better health.

"And think they can continue to do things that they probably shouldn't engage in, like climbing ladders.  As you get older, your sense of balance just typically gets a little worse."

She says the weakening of core muscles in the elderly affect their sense of balance.  Fontenot says it's important to keep those core muscles as strong as possible to help maintain your balance.

"Going to a gym, working out with a trainer, doing sit to stand exercises and anything that strengthens core muscles." 
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Rep. Fleming is founding member of House Freedom Caucus

Republican Minden Congressman John Fleming says he along with eight other US House of Representatives have formed the House Freedom Caucus. Fleming says they'll advance an agenda that calls for an accountable and limited government.
"When they talk about limited government, then they (leadership) shouldn't try to force bills that actually increase the government's role in our everyday lives."

Fleming says they plan on adding additional members to the House Freedom Caucus, but membership is only for those US House of Representatives that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans. 
"Being conservative has a very positive connotation in the republican conference, but the problem is too many people want to vote in a more moderate squishy way, but be called a conservative," Fleming said. 
Fleming says this new group of truly conservative lawmakers will look to advance legislation and also prevent measures that do not represent what he calls "America's Agenda." 
"We have a border bill that's supposed to be voted on this week, we don't think it's strong enough, we are going to attempt to amend it."
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Jindal talks about spiritual revival at prayer rally

It's estimated over 3,000 people attended Saturday's prayer rally on the LSU campus that featured Governor Bobby Jindal. The event was also streamed live on God TV and the governor, who spoke a couple of times, told the crowd in the Maravich Center why this event was needed.
"We can't just elect a candidate and fix what ails our country, we can't just pass a law and fix what ails our country, we need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country," Jindal said. 
Jindal, who is considering a campaign for President, didn't talk politics while on the stage, but he did ask the crowd to pray for President Barack Obama.
The event also drew hundreds of protestors who were vocal with their concerns the American Family Association paid for the event. It's a group classified as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, because of the A-F-A's views on same sex relationships.  
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No demonstrations allowed for Braveheart in animal cruelty trial set to begin today

Michelle Southern reporting.
The trial for a man accused of tying up and abandoning a baby pit-bull in October 2013 begins in Caddo District Court today, and there are plenty of angry citizens expected to be in attendance. The dog is now known as Braveheart and he is owned by Bo Spataro who says 32-year-old Gabriel Lee, charged with cruelty to an animal, has shown zero remorse.

"He never tried to apologize to anybody or anything," said Spataro. "In fact when a reporter tried to ask him a question when he bonded out he said, 'It's just a dog.'"

According to authorities, when he was 4 months old, Braveheart was found chained inside a storage unit in Shreveport and it was believed he'd been there for several days as he was barely alive. 

Spataro says they are hoping Lee gets the maximum sentence allowed.

"I'd also like to see him not allowed to have animals for a certain amount of time or ever again," said Spataro.

The Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office issued a release reminding those who plan to come to the trial no public demonstrations are allowed in or near the Courthouse. They say signs, buttons or t-shirts addressing the case are prohibited.

Spataro says nothing like that is planned and they are asking that anyone who attend be a silent voice for Braveheart in court.

"There will be no excuse for someone to do something that could possibly cause a mistrial and all of this effort go to waste," said Spataro.

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Revenue Estimating Conference meets Monday to determine to budget shortfall

The Revenue Estimating Conference meets Monday to determine the budget shortfall the state faces this fiscal year and next. Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin says it's likely mid-year cuts will be needed to offset the deficit. He says a big reason for the shortfall, lower than expected oil prices.

"So the problem is we need to figure out where these oil prices are going to stay, what that means for the revenue picture of the state and the bottom line means it's going to be less revenue."

Erwin says it's hard to predict how much will be cut this fiscal year. He says we already had a projected shortfall of $1.4 billion for next fiscal year, but more than likely that will grow as oil prices keep plummeting.

"We're going to have to address that next year too. And the bottom line is that healthcare and even more at higher education to get the major part of those cuts," said Erwin.

Erwin says the falling oil prices aren't the only reason we're in this situation but the structure of the budget has never really been repaired since 2008-2009.

He says we've just been borrowing money from ourselves over and over and then that ran out.

"Then when oil prices went even lower it added insult to injury and it's created a very difficult decision for state government," said Erwin.

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Alario to meet with Jindal this week

Senate President John Alario plans to meet with Governor Jindal this week to discuss ways to reduce a potential budget cut of up to $380 million dollars to Louisiana's public colleges. He says that kind of cut would completely devastate higher education not only to the universities but to the children who are seeking it.

"I think you'll find courses being shut down and institutions very much on the verge of shutting down," said Alario.

Alario says he's also heard that LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center is in danger if this type of cut comes down. He says they need to put their heads together and try to figure out how to fix this problem.

"I'm not sure we can eliminate it all, but we are looking at all options," said Alario.

Alario says one of the items of discussion that's on the table is trying to increase revenue.

"Governor Jindal has been stead fast about raising additional taxes," said Alario. "That's what makes this a tougher job."
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Kennedy considering political future

It appears state Treasurer John Kennedy is testing the waters for a few races in this year's upcoming elections.  It's reported Kennedy has hired Virginia-based North Star Opinion Research to poll the races for governor, attorney general, and if there is a US Senate special election in 2016.  

Kennedy says, at this time, he's keeping his options open.
"I'm trying to think through how I want to spend the rest of my career in government service and how I think I can best contribute."

The survey shows the Treasurer topping a possible attorney general's race and the leading Republican in a US Senate race should David Vitter become governor.  Kennedy says he's had a number of different groups talk to him about serving in a different capacity.

"I like government service, I'm honored to be able to do it, I'm humbled by it, and I enjoy doing it.  And I'm just trying to think everything through.  I'll make a decision soon, but I haven't made one yet."

The poll shows Kennedy coming in third in the governor's race behind Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards.  He says he enjoys being state Treasurer and this doesn't mean he will not run for re-election.  Kennedy says he's trying to weigh the advice he's been given and think things through.

"I try to make my decisions based on both my heart and my head.  And, hopefully, both my heart and my head at some point will get to the same place and that's what I'm trying to work through." 
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Weekend rotation unknown as LSU baseball begins full squad workouts

LSU Baseball Coach Paul Mainieri says sophomore left-hander Jared Poche will start opening day on February 13th against Kansas, but he's not sure on what the rest of his starting rotation will look like. Mainieri says he has several freshmen to choose from and the situation will play itself out during the non-conference portion of the schedule.

"They may all be good pitchers, but one guy may show a particular strikeout pitch, which make may him a better closer than someone else," Mainieri said.
Right-handers Alex Lange, Jake Godrey and Doug Norman, along with southpaw Jake Latz are four freshmen pitchers that Mainieri will count on this season.
Mainieri has confidence he'll have a strong staff by the end of the season, because of pitching coach Alan Dunn.
"If they keep improving at the rate, that I've seen so far, they are going to be special," Mainieri said.
Poche was a weekend starter last season and a Freshman All-American. The former Lutcher standout is one of eight returning pitchers and he likes what he sees from the young arms that have joined the team. 
"Sky's the limit, with these young guys we have coming in. These guys have a lot of talent, it's just a matter of them adjusting to college," Poche said.  
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Louisianians heading to Washington for Mardi Gras

This weekend, the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians will be hosting the DC Mardi Gras in our nation's capitol.  A reported 3,000 Louisianians will fly in for the festivities at the Washington Hilton.  

LaPolitics-dot-com publisher Jeremy Alford says, with this being an election year in Louisiana, you can expect to see a lot of candidates attending looking for support.
"The gubernatorial candidates are going to be here.  Jefferson Parish President John Young, who is running for Lt. Governor, was on the flight that I was this morning.  So, it's really a 'Who's Who' of Louisiana politics."

Alford says a "Who's Who" of Louisiana politics will be attending.  He says the bar at the Hilton becomes Louisiana's 65th parish during DC Mardi Gras.  Alford says one topic has been dominating the conversation there this year and that's money.

"Everybody wants to know how we're going to maneuver around a $1.4 billion budget and others are talking about how Super PACs are going to influence this fall's elections.  Other folks are talking about oil prices and what's going to happen in the oil patch."

In the past, this was an event where Louisiana politicians could really let their hair down.  But Alford says, due to technology, there is now a reluctance among politicians to have too much fun in public.

"It really hit a peak last year when Attorney General Buddy Caldwell was caught on a cell phone camera serenading Mary Landrieu in her hospitality suite and it ended up being made into a campaign commercial."

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Benson family feud commonplace according to experts

Michelle Southern reporting.
Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson's dirty laundry is being aired after he announces he's decided to leave the franchises to his wife instead of his daughter and grandchildren. The former heirs have filed a lawsuit claiming it was a decision made out of incompetence.

Dr. Michelle Moore is a clinical psychologist at the LSU Health Sciences Center.
She says a family battle like this is happens all the time.

"It's very common for there to be conflict between biological children and step-children," said Moore. "I think a lot of this revolves around trust and being able to depend on certain people and how that changes over time."

The 87-year-old Benson responded to the lawsuit saying the allegations that he's incapacitated are false and he intends to fight them every step of the way. Moore says this family battle can be repaired with simple open communication among members.

"Trying to talk about it without people being defensive, without putting guards up, being ugly with each other or using ugly words," said Moore.

The family suit claims Gayle Benson is a gold digger who has talked her husband into completely disconnecting himself from the kids and grand kids. Moore says this situation is that much more difficult because there is a ton of money involved.

"Even more emotions are running so high because there is so much money at stake here," said Moore.

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GE to close Pineville facility

Multiple sources have reported that employees of General Electric's plant in Pineville have been told that the facility is closing with the manufacturing jobs transferring to Jacksonville, Florida.  The valve plant employs about 300 people.  

Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields says they haven't gotten any official report from GE.
"I guess we're somewhat like there employees were when a meeting was held and that's literally where a lot of information flowed from."

Fields says employees were informed of the closing in a meeting held Thursday morning.  He adds that there was no prior indication that the plant would potentially close down.  Fields says this closing, not only will affect the 300 employees and their families, but also on other merchants in the area.

"Depending on who GE was supplying, it could also have an impact on other local businesses.  So we're bracing ourselves for that if it all comes to fruition."

Pineville has seen several facilities close in recent years, including Cotton Brothers Bakery and International Paper.  Fields says they are currently looking for prospects to fill those sites.  He is hoping the city's luck will change in the near future.

"We've got some state facilities that have downsized, our Huey P. (Long) medical center closed and Pineville Craft and now GE.  So we need something positive and hopefully that will happen pretty soon." 
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Super PAC is formed to assist in Jindal's presidential aspirations

Republican supporters of Governor Bobby Jindal establish a super PAC that could assist him in a presidential bid. Former Louisiana Congressman, Bob Livingston, is the chairman of the political action committee, called Believe Again PAC. Livingston acknowledges this is the first step in a possible run for the White House.
The super PAC can raise an unlimited amount of money, but Jindal can't direct or coordinate how the money is spent. Livingston says the super PAC will get Jindal ready, if he chooses to run for President.
"We certainly hope to give Bobby Jindal some support that he'll need to structure his operation," Livingston said.
Livingston says organizers of the super PAC have not set a goal of how much they plan to raise. 
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Benson former heir says her grandfather is incapacitated

Michelle Southern reporting.
A day after New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson announced his wife will assume ownership of the Saints and Pelicans when he dies, his former heir files suit claiming her grandfather is incapacitated. Rita Benson LeBlanc, her mother Renee Benson and brother Ryan LeBlanc filed the petition in Orleans Civil District Court Thursday.

"This will ultimately depend on Tom Benson's current metal state," says legal analyst Tim Meche. "And if there's evidence that he is somewhat incapacitated that means she has a chance."

The suit makes several claims that Benson is not fit mentally and physically to manage his personal or business affairs and that Renee should be executor of his sports and business ventures with Rita in the secondary position.

Meche says they will have to prove that Tom Benson is not capable of making decisions on his own.

"And that will depend upon the metal health professionals," said Meche. "And obviously he will have a lot of legal fire power himself that he will bring to the table."

The suit also alleges that Tom Benson's wife, Gayle, is trying to take advantage of her husband's unfit mental state and that she is only after his money.

Meche says ultimately the complainants would have to come up with evidence that Benson is too handicapped to handle his affairs.

"Either from witnesses or by describing prior incidents," said Meche. "If there is enough evidence like that then it's very likely he would have to undergo some type of mental evaluation."

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Could the rest of the state follow New Orleans' ban on public smoking?

The New Orleans City Council has approved a ban on smoking in bars and casinos, so could we see the Louisiana legislature pass a similar law that would impact the entire state. West Monroe Representative Frank Hoffman says a statewide ban on smoking in bars and gambling halls is something legislators might consider.

"It's hard for me to say at this point in time, I'm not sure, I don't have anything specific, but we'll look at the big picture and move slowly and carefully in deciding how we need to handle it and what need to do," Hoffman said.
Hoffman says an ordinance that prohibits smoking in bars and bingo halls in all of Ouachita Parish went into effect last January and it's been well received by bar owners.
Hoffman authored legislation that went into effect at the start of this year that prohibits smoking near the entrance of state buildings. 
He says a public smoking ban in New Orleans could convince legislators that it's time to do it statewide.
"I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to see what New Orleans did," Hoffman said.  
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A convicted child killer has been released from prison

Michelle Southern reporting.
A self-confessed child killer named Phillip DeSelle is was released from prison Thursday and the family of the little girl, along with residents in Evangeline Parish are outraged. Erin Keyser is the aunt of Averie Evans of Natchitoches who was killed by DeSelle when she was 11 years old.

Keyser says the man served just 24 years in prison on a 50 year sentence.

"We've all just been devastated that he's going to be released," said Keyser. "We anticipated having to battle through parole hearings, but we really were not prepared for him to knock that much time off of his sentence."

Keyser says DeSelle, now 65, was given time off for good behavior because of the laws that were in place when he was convicted in the early 90s. DeSelle is expected to make his new home in the town of Turkey Creek, which is in Evangeline Parish. And he'll have to report to his probation officer in Ville Platte. 

Keyser says they are spreading the word and putting his picture out there so people know this is happening.

"So now they have a face with a name, and a warning to all communities in Louisiana that a killer is going to be out there," said Keyser.

She says Turkey Creek residents are extremely unhappy as their worst fear is that DeSelle could snap again.

"They should be concerned," said Keyser. "They are taking the appropriate steps to protect their community and their children especially."

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New Orleans City Council approves public smoking ban

The New Orleans City Council has unanimously approved a controversial ordinance that prohibits smoking in bars and casinos.  

Claudia Rodas, with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, is in favor of the ordinance, which will go into effecdt in 90 days.  She says it will protect bar and casino workers from the dangers of second hand smoke.

"And this ordinance will do just that to protect those employees who have been left behind and are not protected through the current smoking ordinance."

Alex Fine, President of the French Quarter Business League, points out that there are already over 100 bars in the city that do not allow smoking.   He says owners should be allowed to make the decision on whether or not they want to be smoke-free.

"We feel like there's been enough government regulation on how we run our businesses up until this point and we just feel like we should be able to run our businesses as we see fit."

Rodas says employees in bars and casinos should be able to work in a smoke-free environment, like people who work in the restaurant industry.  She says this is much bigger than a business decision, it's a public health issue.

"And the dangers of second hand smoke.  The US Surgeon General has clearly said that there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke."

Fine says they are concerned about the revenue hit this measure could have on business, on top of the 20 to 30 percent drop in business due to the crime crisis in the city.

"Most of the studies we have read have shown at least a 20-percent drop in revenues within the first year of the smoking ban." 

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