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Governor John Bel Edwards has kicked off his statewide tour to discuss Medicaid expansion. Over the next month, Edwards and Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, Dr. Rebekah Gee, will visit cities to raise awareness and answer questions about who will be eligible to enroll for the government health insurance on June 1st. Edwards also announced that the state’s health program has a new name.

“The Bayou Health Program will now fall under a new name called Healthy Louisiana. This new program name is more in line with our efforts to produce health outcomes in the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said.

State health officials say the expanded Medicaid program will be able to cover an estimated 350,000 working poor individuals. Edwards says he wants to make sure that the people of Louisiana have all the information they need when it comes to Medicaid expansion before enrollment begins.

“Beginning in June, individuals like the ones here with us today are going to be able to start enrolling in this new program. Their coverage will be effective on July 1,” Edwards said.

Edwards and Gee emphasized the importance of the new website healthy.la.gov, which provides information about the Medicaid expansion. Gee says people should understand their healthcare options, so they can choose the plan that’s best for them.

“Just like you can go online and see the quality of your pizza, you ought to be able to go online and see the quality of your healthcare providers and really make good decisions about how you choose your providers,” Gee said.

 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Officials across the Northshore announced today the beginning of "Operation Angel" - a program whereby a person addicted to drugs can walk into a police station and ask for help instead of being charged with a crime. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz says it's time law enforcement changes the way they do business.


"We think we should give those suffering from addiction the help they need, instead of handcuffs" said Lentz. "It's time to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime."

Lentz says this program would provide addicts with the help they need, without fear of being arrested. He says chemically dependent people would need to surrender any drugs they have, then they'll be escorted by an "angel" to walk them through the recovery process at the Giving Hope Retreat in Lacombe.

"This organization will provide help for addicts, ranging from heroin to alcohol, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Lentz.

Angecies participating include the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, Slidell Police, Mandeville Police, Madisonville Police, Folsom Police and Pearl River Police.

Lentz says the only requirement is that an addict must want to change their life. He encourages those suffering from addiction in St. Tammany Parish communities to go to your police department or sheriff's office, and ask for help.

"You will not be charged with a crime. We will not ask you where you got your drugs from," said Lentz. "We would rather you spend 6 months in a treatment program, than 6 months in jail."
 
 
 

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Louisiana’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, as 78% of the Class of 2015 received their diplomas. State Education Superintendent John White, says that’s almost a 3% increase over the previous year, which is the second largest annual gain in 10 years. He believes more students are graduating, because educators raised the bar.

“The Class of 2015 has achieved higher gain, and we have set higher expectations for them than ever before, and that’s a testament to the power of high expectation,” White said.

White says this achievement continues a trend since 2012 when BESE implemented policy changes that includes the start of the Jump Start program which prepares students for technical careers and expansion of the Advanced Placement program. He says this graduating class also participated in education classes prior to kindergarten.

“They were, as an interesting note, the first cohort to participate in the state’s statewide prekindergarten program called LA 4,” White said.

White says Louisiana is also the most improved state in the country on ACT test scores, and the second most improved in the number of graduates achieving an Advanced Placement college credit. Louisiana still lags behind the national graduation rate which was 82% in 2014. But White says the state’s graduation rate is rising faster than the nation’s.

“Relative to the rest of the country, which is making steady gains itself, we are making significant gains,” White said.

 
 
 

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Cleco utility customers can expect a $475 credit on their bills beginning in July, as a result of the Pineville-based company’s sale to foreign investors. Cleco spokesperson Jennifer Cahill says the Louisiana Public Service Commission created this credit as a part of their transaction.

“Customers are benefitting from lower bills during the summer months and will still continue to receive reliable power from Cleco,” Cahill said.

Cahill says the credit will be applied until it runs out, meaning some customers will not have to pay a utility bill for a couple of months.

“So for example, if a customer has a monthly bill of $100, the credit would cover four months of electricity bills, plus $75 of the bill during fifth month,” Cahill said.

Cahill says the deal, which closed on April 13, will benefit both residents and businesses.

“The credit will be given to all Cleco customers,” Cahill said.

 
 
 

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ULM students are gathering on campus today to collectively voice their concerns for the future of higher education. Katherine Dawson, Online Program Coordinator for ULM, says students, faculty, alumni, and others will all email their state legislators between 11:45 am and 12:15 pm at an event called Mission: Maroon.


"Flood the inboxes of our legislators and let them know that there are people that care about the state of higher education, and that we have a voice, and we need them to be our voice," Dawson said.

The governor’s proposed budget calls for a $183 million cut to TOPS and higher education would receive a 6% cut in state funding.

Dawson says the purpose is not to gripe at lawmakers but to speak up and be heard. She says unfortunately, one email from one person may not make much of a difference, but she hopes that hundreds of emails will. "If there are hundreds or thousands of emails, all sent around the same time, all with the mission to support higher education, that really can make an impact," Dawson said.

Dawson says they are encouraging people who cannot be on campus for this event to participate from home by emailing their legislators and posting photos wearing maroon to social media using their hashtags. "Hashtag Mission Maroon, hashtag flood their inbox, hashtag fund the future, hashtag on Mondays we wear maroon," Dawson said.
 
 
 

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Lt. Governor Bill Nungesser is touring the state to promote tourism as part of National Tourism Week. Nungesser says he’ll be in in West Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and St. Francisville today and then head to the northern part of the state later in the week. He says he just returned from a week-long trip to Canada.

“40% of our international visitors come from Canada. We have a great connection with the Canadians because of the French heritage, the zydeco and the Cajun music.”

Nungesser will be traveling around the state in a van that’s wrapped with the state’s tourism marketing campaign. He says in 2015 nearly 29-million people visited the state, which was a record, but.

“Especially with the oil industry down it’s going to be a real effort to repeat the numbers from last year. We’re already seeing a great slowdown in the hotel business in some of the hard hit parishes.”

Nungesser says with the oil industry down and recent budget cuts, Louisiana needs as much tax revenue from tourists as possible. He says that’s why it’s important for him to visit historic sites, visitor centers and local tourism officials this week.

“Every person involved in tourism in this state has such love and passion for what they do and that’s what sells Louisiana, it’s our people.”

 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards wants a list of budget reform recommendations in two weeks from a special task force. Some of the proposals will likely be presented to lawmakers during a special session in June to address a $600 million shortfall.

 
Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin is on the task force and says lawmakers have already raised the state sales tax, so they are left with limited options to address the budget gap.
 
“So if you’re really trying to raise some dollars, you’re kind of left with income tax, and whether that’s personal income tax or corporate income tax or income tax deductions or exemptions, that’s kind of the ballpark you have,” Erwin said.

Erwin says it's key that any revenue raising measure that could be passed in a second special session doesn’t further hurt the state economy.

“We’re not here to recommend raising taxes. We’re here to say, ‘If you do raise taxes, do it within this kind of a structure,” Erwin said.

Raising more revenue could help reduce cuts to vital state services. Erwin says they will be looking at corporate and personal income taxes to see if enough revenue can be raised by removing some exemptions and deductions.

“You can remove exemptions, and you can raise dollars, but we want to make sure that we do it in a way that’s smart. That’s the bottom line,” Erwin said.

 
 
 

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The LSU AgCenter has developed an eye-drop to prevent and treat cataracts. AgCenter Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering Professor Cristina Sabliov says they became interested in developing a solution because cataracts are the leading cause of visual impairment in the US.

She says they found a way to use lutein to prevent the eye lens from becoming cloudy.

“Lutein is a naturally occurring antioxidant that’s known for its benefits to the eye.”

Sabliov says lutein is currently prescribed as an oral treatment for cataracts and eye diseases, but she says LSU AgCenter researchers have developed a solution to drop it directly into your eyes.

“But we found that ingesting lutein is not as efficient in treating eye diseases as would be a direct eye application to the eye.”

The AgCenter is working to patent the drop. Sabliov says they hope this new product will have the unique advantage for both being able to prevent cataracts before they start or to treat cataracts after they form.

“We are providing an alternative to cataract surgery. In our case, no needles are required, just the simple application of the eye-drop daily.”

 
 
 

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The Saints must have liked what they've seen from Ohio State lately. New Orleans used both of its draft picks Friday night to select former Buckeyes. With the 16th pick in the second round, the Black and Gold selected wide receiver Michael Thomas. He's the nephew of former NFL star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. While in Columbus, Thomas was the Buckeyes leading receiver the last two seasons. Last fall, he had 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns.


Later in the 2nd round, the Saints would trade up so they can take former Ohio State safety Vonn Bell. The Georgia prep star had six interceptions during the Buckeyes national championship season in 2014 and had two more in 2015. 

Also in the 2nd round, the Atlanta Falcons took New Orleans native and former LSU Tiger linebacker Deion Jones. Jones led the Tigers in tackles and tackles for a loss last season.
 

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A Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Deputy left his job with the Medium-Security Facility to play professional minor league baseball after discovering he can throw a 91 mile-per-hour-fast ball. 26-year-old Randy Zeigler was a pitcher for LSU and caught the eye of a Chicago White Sox scout. Zeigler says he’ll be playing for the Lincoln Nebraska Saltdogs.

“I just think it’s the talent that the good Lord has given me. I’m wanting to use my ability, use the gifts He’s giving me to the best of my ability and for His purpose.”

Zeigler says he was just messing around with a radar gun when he discovered he was throwing at the same speed he was three years ago. He says he’s excited to play baseball but he’ll miss being a deputy in his hometown.

“I wanted to help and serve the community, be a part of something bigger than myself. This is where I’ve grown up, this is where I’ve lived my whole life, it’s just the community I’ve grown up in.”

Lt. Billy Jones says he’s sad to lose such a dedicated employee but is excited for Zeigler to do what he’s always had a passion for.

“I really hope the best for him. If he don’t go he’ll never know what he could’ve done, so my hats off to him. I want to see him do good and chase his dream.”

 
(photo courtesy of the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office Facebook)
 
 
 

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A Grand Isle man has been arrested for attempting to purchase a child for sexual purposes. That’s according to State Police trooper Jesse LaGrange who says 30-year-old Wade Perkins asked someone to locate a 6 to 8-year-old child so Perkins could pay for a sexual encounter. LaGrange says that person then contacted police.

“An undercover trooper made contact with the subject Mr. Perkins through electronic communication, and they arranged a meeting,” LaGrange said.

LaGrange says when Perkins met up with an undercover trooper, he was arrested for attempt and conspiracy to commit first-degree rape. Perkins is a registered sex offender in Michigan for criminal sexual conduct. LaGrange says they expect to file more charges against Perkins.

“We have additional electronic devices that are being analyzed right now to determine if he had any child pornography or things like that,” LaGrange said. 

 
 
 

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Investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are looking into the number of animal deaths that have recently occurred at the Baton Rouge Zoo. Curator Sam Winslow says they asked for the USDA and the American Zoo Association to send in officials to assess the situation after 18 animals have died in the last year.

“Everyone is not necessarily going to believe what we say so if we can bring in outside opinion and to try and validate what happened here, that’s the reason why we did it. So we volunteered to have these two agencies come in and review our procedures.”

Winslow says the 2-year-old Malayan tiger that died earlier in the month likely suffered from gastric dilation. He says her death was something you unfortunately can’t do anything about.

“Abdominal distress or something, she was just feeling uncomfortable then she looked like she got bloated from the view we could see and she died within 25 to 30 minutes.”

Two giraffes also recently died at the zoo. Winslow says they were 24 and 30-years-old. He says the normal life expectancy for a giraffe is about 13 years.

“They were up there. Even on necropsy, the pathologist was remaking what good shape they were in for such old animals. It’s not from neglect certainly.”

 
 
 

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State Police announces the arrest of a Lafayette man who was allegedly traveling 150 miles per hour before crashing his 2016 Chevrolet Corvette and killing one person. Trooper Brooks David says 31-year-old Martin Nguyen was at the wheel when his vehicle ran off the road on April 18th on LA Highway 339 and it killed 30-year-old Hoang Nguyen of Lake Charles.

“His passenger was seat belted but died of injuries sustained in that crash,” David said.

David says Martin Nguyen’s blood alcohol concentration was over the legal limit when the crash occurred.

“Anytime you’re doing that speed and impaired, that cocktail mixer, excuse the pun, you’re going to crash. There’s no way that you’re going to be able to control the vehicle at 150 miles an hour,” David said.

David says Martin Nguyen was in the hospital being treated for injuries after the accident, but he has now been arrested and charged with vehicular homicide, speeding, reckless operation, and improper lane usage.

“Upon his release, we had a warrant already secured. When he was released, troopers were there to affect the arrest and serve that warrant on Mr. Martin Nguyen,” David said.

 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Governor John Bel Edwards says priority number one for him right now is stabilizing the budget, because we must focus on moving Louisiana forward. He says the vision that he put forth when he was running for governor has not changed, but they have to work on filling the $600 million dollar gap for next fiscal year.


"This is the short term goal because if we are not successful, very little else that I talked about in the campaign, or since, are we going to be able to do," said Edwards.

Edwards says there are many policy related issues that are going to be on the back burner until we can deal with the present crisis.

"There is only so much political capital at one time that can be expended," said Edwards. "And I am trying to be as judicious as possible as I move through this process and do that."

Edwards says he remains very optimistic about his administration and the state as a whole.

He says he doesn’t see any way they could avoid a second special session, but before he makes the call he’s going to wait for recommendations from a panel assigned to review the state budget.

"I'm expecting a fairly streamlined set of proposals that get us a down payment on comprehensive tax reform, but that are achievable in the short term," said Edwards.
 
 
 
 
 

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A poll paid for by the Louisiana Cannabis Association finds that 72% of Louisiana voters support legalizing medical marijuana as a treatment for more diseases. Jesse McCormick is glad to see a majority of voters support the use of medical cannabis to help relieve pain for people who suffer from different diseases, like cancer and HIV. 

“Any relief that you can proved that person is worth it because they’re going through something that a healthy person can’t understand,” McCormick said.

McCormick says 24 other states have already legalized medical cannabis. He says a majority of respondents are also in favor of taxing the prescription drug.

“There’s also 56% of them who don’t have a problem with taxing it and benefitting from it, and we thought that was pretty eye-opening,” McCormick said.

The telephone survey was conducted by Louisiana polling firm JMC Analytics and Polling. They surveyed 600 registered voters. McCormick says he understands that plenty of people will always oppose the legalization, but he hopes that this poll encourages more lawmakers to vote in favor of the legalization.

“If we could lessen some of the opposition and just take a look at crafting it and making it work better, we’d just consider that a huge win,” McCormick said.

Legislators have been conflicted on whether or not to expand the list of diseases for which medical cannabis can be prescribed.

 
 
 

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Tonight is rounds two and three of the NFL draft, and several former LSU Tigers are expected to be selected. NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier believes linebacker Deion Jones will go early in round two.

“Now he’s moved up into probably the early part of round two. He had a great senior season at LSU, terrific athlete when you see him run, not only forward but in reverse.

Detillier also believes defensive back Jalen Mills will go in the second round, as well. 

“He’s a second round pick and I think the one thing that sticks out to me is his versatility. Four year starter, competitive, can play man coverage, and has started at cornerback, free safety, and in the slot. There aren’t a lot of guys that can put that on their resumes and he started

Detillier also believes four year starter Vadal Alexander will be a third round pick and could be a productive offensive guard in the NFL.

“He’s worked hard to get his weight down, terrific run blocker, a guy that has learned to stay low, get good push up front. I think he’s still a little work in progress as a technician, pass blocking and he’s a waist bender, not a knee bender but with the lower weight, I think he can be a starter and quickly in the NFL.”

 
 
 

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Ole Miss center fielder J.B. Woodman threw two LSU runners out at the plate and that was the difference as the Rebels held on for a 7-6 win over the Tigers to begin their three game series in Oxford.

Woodman gunned down Cole Freeman in the 4th inning, as he tried to score on a single from second base. Woodman made an even more impressive play in the 8th inning, when he nailed pinch runner Brennan Breaux at the plate, as Breaux was trying to tie the game.  
 
LSU also blew two, two-run leads as it was a rough night for Tiger pitching. Starter Jared Poche gave up four runs in eight innings. Parker Bugg (0-2) allowed three runs in two innings. Bugg also had a throwing error that led to a run. 
 
The Tigers had 11 hits on the night. Jake Fraley had three singles and Jordan Romero drove in three runs. But the Bayou Bengals were 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
 
The loss drops LSU's record to 27-15 overall, 10-9 in the SEC.
 
The Tigers will look to even up the series on Friday night when they take on the Rebels in the second game of the three-game series. First pitch is at 6:30. Alex Lange (4-3, 4.34 ERA) will pitch for LSU. Ole Miss counters with David Parkinson (2-1, 1.70 ERA). 

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The Saints have made some surprising moves in the 1st round of the NFL draft in years past, but not this year. Many mock drafts had New Orleans selecting Louisville defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins and that's who the Black and Gold took with the 12th overall pick.
 
Rankins was a productive player at Louisville his last two seasons, as he had 14 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss.


The interior of the defensive line was a position of need going into the draft and based on early projections Rankins will bolster a defense that's been one of the worst in the NFL the last couple of seasons.
 
Rankins is considered an athletic player, who is very quick and can defend the run and rush the passer. He's also able to play multiple positions on the defensive line.
 
The Georgia native didn't make the All-ACC 1st team, but he impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl.  

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The House has approved two more pro-life measures. One of the bills, authored by Baton Rouge Representative Rick Edmonds, prohibits women from getting abortions just because a child will have a genetic disorder. Edmonds says his son was born with a disorder, and if he’d taken medical advice, he wouldn’t have his grandchildren today.

“If I would’ve taken the medical advice, my son would’ve never become an adult. My son is an amazing blessing, and so are thousands of those across Louisiana that we’re blessed with,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds says life is hard, and women shouldn’t be able to abort their babies just because it would be easier.

“We’re basically saying that all these children ultimately have no purpose, they have no meaning,” Edmonds said.

Edmond’s bill passed 75-1. Another proposal by Bossier City Representative Mike Johnson would outlaw a procedure commonly used in second trimester abortions. Johnson calls these “dismemberment” abortions and says every year more than a thousand unborn children are aborted through this “barbaric” process.

“The child is alive during this torturous process dies bleeding out during its dismemberment, as any of us would if your arm or your leg were ripped off,” Johnson says.

Johnson’s bill was approved unanimously. Opponents of the measure say outlawing this procedure would force women to undergo invasive, unnecessary procedures or lose access to abortion services entirely. Both measure now head to the Senate.

 
 
 

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A Vermilion Parish teacher is facing rape charges. Lt. David Hardy with the Abbeville Police Department says James Harber has been charged with two counts of second-degree rape and one count of first-degree rape. He says a search of Harber’s home indicates that more charges could be coming.

“We obtained evidence, computers and other devices, which contained photographs and videos containing child pornography,” Hardy said.

Police have shared their evidence with the Sheriff’s Office as well as the US Attorney’s office, in the hopes that they would seek an indictment. Hardy says child pornography was found on Harber’s home computer. He says they learned of the rape charges after interviewing the victims that were in the explicit pictures on Harber’s computer.

“Interviews were conducted on the victims, where a victim disclosed that she had sexual relations with Mr. Harber,” Hardy said.

A Lafayette TV station reports that Harber was a 7th grade teacher a J.H. Williams Middle School. Hardy says it is not clear if the victims attended the school where Harber taught, but he did know his victims.

“There was a relationship between Mr. Harber and the mother of the victims, which led to somehow or other the victims residing in Mr. Harber’s residence,” Hardy said.

 
 
 

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