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House panel okays the sale of wine ice cream

Alcohol infused ice cream could be coming to a store near you. Monroe Representative Marcus Hunter's legislation that would allow licensed alcohol retailers to sell wine ice cream finally made it out of a House committee on its third try.

 The bill heads to the House floor for more discussion. Hunter says the proposed law is written, so ONLY retailers that are licensed can sell wine ice cream, which should keep it from being sold to minors.
"There will be no way the neighborhood ice cream man will be selling infused alcohol ice cream to kids or adults." 
The bill also states that the alcohol content in the ice cream must be relatively low. Buzz Bar, which is made in California, wants to sell their product in the Bayou State. They're Blitzed Berry ice cream bar has an alcohol content of two-point-eight percent

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Raw milk bill advances out of House Ag

Michelle Southern reporting.
After an intense debate today over whether or not to allow the sale of raw milk, lawmakers advanced the bill by Carencro Rep. Stephen Ortego. Ciera Majors spoke to the House Agriculture committee in favor of the measure that would allow farmers to sell raw milk to consumers.

"The only argument that the opposition has for this bill is 'death of a child, death of a child,'" said Majors. "Trust me! I want to protect my children. I wanted to give them a healthy product so much so that I bought two cows."

Majors argued that families should have the right to choose the foods they consume and provide for their children.

Marksville Representative Robert Johnson strongly opposes the bill. He told Majors that his problem with the measure is NOT that she milks her own cows and gives the raw milk to HER children.

"My problem is that you don't want DHH to do any kind of inspection, any kind of permitting process," said Johnson. "And then you want to exempt yourself from any kind of liability just in case somebody messes up. And when you say child..'death of a child'..that's a very serious thing to me."

One raw milk supporter, Audry Salvador, told Johnson it would be the responsibility of the consumer to make sure they are purchasing from a reputable farmer.

"I can watch everything they do if I want," said Salvador.

Johnson said, "What about those who don't?"

"That is their fault."

"What about the child that dies that has no one to protect him," Johnson asked.

"Well, before the age of reason they can go to Heaven," said Salvador.

"That's your answer?! Mr. Chairman I move that we voluntarily defer this bill," Johnson said in extreme anger.

Johnson also tells Salvador he has a major problem with farmers being exempt from liability if someone gets sick from raw milk.

The sale of raw milk is illegal because it was thought to have carried certain diseases that have been eradicated in the United States since the turn of the century according to Ortego.

The vote was 9-6 and now heads to the House Floor.

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Colbert cracks audience up with Louisiana chicken boxing jokes

Michelle Southern reporting.
Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert poked some fun at the Louisiana Legislature on his show Wednesday night over one lawmaker's fight to keep the sport of chicken boxing alive.

Opelousas Senator Elbert Guillory opposes a bill that would expand Louisiana's ban on cockfighting.

"Senator Guillory explained that the chickens can engage in their sport without hurting each other," Colbert said. "They put little boxing gloves on and fight in rounds so they can get water and cool off. So if they're hot they get water and if they're losing they get olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon."

Before New Orleans Senator JP Morrell's bill came up on the Senate floor, Guillory released a list of chicken boxing rules to illustrate that the sport was perfectly safe.

Colbert read the rules with a touch of sarcasm.

"Chicken boxing has strict rules like each combatant has to wear standard foul safety boxing gear," Colbert said. "Just check the poultry counter at your local Sports Authority."

Colbert said that, sadly, the state Senate ended up agreeing with Morrell's bill that would close certain loopholes in cockfighting laws.

But the comedian who was recently named the successor to David Letterman, says he commends Senator Guillory for trying to keep big government out of our chicken sporting events.

"What's next no more poultry jousting? You tell me Louisiana Senate! What manner of chicken combat shall your law allow? Just tell us the way we can have chickens attack each other for our amusement and we will do it," exclaimed Colbert.

You can watch the clip here. - Chicken boxing begins at 2:55.

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Legislation being discussed today that will allow the sale of raw milk from farmers to consumers

The House Ag Committee will meet today to discuss a bill that would allow the sale of raw milk from farmers to consumers. Carencro representative Stephen Ortego says raw milk has the same health risks as eating a hamburger or a raw oyster and can be beneficial to people that are lactose intolerant. 
"One of the things that really made me realize that we needed to legalize the sale was when I had the parent of two children who have lactose intolerance and whenever she told me she was trying to nourish her children and was being made into a criminal, I realized that maybe we need to visit this law," Ortego says. 

Ortego says the sale of raw milk is currently illegal because some diseases in the turn of the century were found in it but those diseases have now been eradicated in the United States. He says the changes in technology now make the consumption of raw milk a lot safer and popular in other states.
"There are a handful of states that have the legal purchasing of heard shares where you technically own a piece of heard and there are also many states like Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi around us that have the legal sale of raw milk from the farmer to the consumer," Ortego says. 

Ortego says this will open up new markets and help out smaller farms. He says it should be a close vote in committee but they have a good shot of getting the bill passed.
"It is sort of a question of food rights versus consumer protection. I think most of the people on the committee grew up on raw milk and don't see it as a problem," Ortego says. 


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Pregnant women close to death must remain on life support under House bill

Legislation that would require doctors and hospitals to keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support until they give birth, regardless of the family's wishes, is heading to the House floor. It passed out of the House Health and Welfare Committee. New Orleans Representative Austin Badon says his bill gives an unborn child a voice.

Badon says unfortunately there are cases where a pregnant women can't speak or is incoherent and steps need to be taken to protect that child's life.
"So what I'm asking for in that very unfortunate situation that we step in as a state and realize we have a responsibility to that unborn child and give that unborn child a chance."
Opposition came from New Orleans resident Julie Schwam Harris. She says the legislation could create a dangerous precedent.
Harris says this legislation could also go against a dying woman's living will. She says if there is no living will, than a loved one should make the decision on whether brain-dead pregnant women should remain on life support.
"This bill wrongly in my opinion puts government between a woman and her family, between a woman and her doctor, a woman and her faith." 
Despite the objection, the House Health and Welfare committee approved the measure and it heads to the House floor. 



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A push to expand Medicaid in Louisiana fails

Louisiana voters will NOT get the opportunity to vote on whether the state should expand it's Medicaid Program. A proposed constitutional amendment to do so was defeated in a Senate Committee. Governor Jindal has said expanding the Medicaid program would be costly and  Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kleibert voiced the same opinion.

"Each state that rejects this massive entitlement expansion, saves taxpayer money and prevents further growth of the federal debt," Kleibert said. 
The measure was defeated by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on a six to two vote. Before the vote, Bogalusa Senator Ben Nevers made the case that the expansion of Medicaid would provide insurance to 250-thousand Louisiana adults who desperately need health coverage. 
"Make no mistake members, if we fail to expand Medicaid in this state, people will die because of it."


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Louisiana ranks 49th for return of investment when it comes to taxes paid

Louisiana's government services are providing the third worst return in investment based on the amount taxes Louisiana residents pay.  That's according to Wallethub.com. Senior analyst John Kiernan says based on their research Louisianians are not getting a lot in return for the amount of taxes they pay.

Kiernan says Louisiana's tax rate is the 17th best in the country, which is good. But he says the state ranks poorly in the areas of education and infrastructure and health care, which leads to a poor return on investment for taxpayers.
"Louisiana ranks 44th in terms of infrastructure, so that includes quality of roads and bridges," Kiernan said. "The state also ranks 50th in education." 
Kiernan says only Arkansas and Mississippi received a lower rankings on their return on taxpayer investment study. He says it's this type of information that voters should keep in mind when they go to the polls. 


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Equal pay legislation passes out of Senate committee

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that would expand the "Equal Pay for Women Act" to include men and also apply to private sector employers passed in Senate Committee today. SB 334 is by New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson who says paying unequal wages based on sex is unjust and discriminates against the person receiving the lesser rate.

"It also leads to lesser morale and threatens the well being of our citizens of this state," Peterson said.

Peterson says there are certain exceptions to her measure when it comes to seniority or merit based pay systems.

She says in 2010, Louisiana ranked 46th in the nation for lowest paid women.

"And I know we've become immune to these numbers because we're always 46th, 47th, and 48th," Peterson says. "But at some point don't you think we should wake up and try to attain number 1, 2, 3 .. so we can be proud of our wives, our mothers our grandmothers and our daughters?"

Legislation that would require state employees to pay women the same as men passed last year, but this bill would cover private employers as well.

Peterson says in the same year, Louisiana women earned 67 cents for every dollar earned by a man who does the exact same work.

"It's not fair," Peterson said. "Louisiana has the second largest wage gap in the US. Why is that fair?"

The legislation passed out of the Senate Governmental Affairs committee unanimously Wednesday and now heads to the Senate Floor.

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Drone bill passes Senate on second try

Michelle Southern reporting.
A day after rejecting a bill that would regulate certain drones in Louisiana, Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor ended up getting enough votes to advance his legislation Tuesday. SB330 would prohibit unmanned flying devices from taking pictures of private property with several exceptions.

Claitor wants laws to keep up with technology.

"The purpose of this bill is on the very basic level of," said Claitor. "Should someone be able to take a look in your backyard and through your back window simply because they have the technology to do it?"

Claitor says buying a device that can fly into your neighbors yard and look around is extremely easy and relatively inexpensive.

The legislation failed Monday by a vote of 21-15, then it passed yesterday 22-16.

New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson says you can't stop technology from happening.

"I don't think we can accomplish what you're trying to accomplish with this bill," said Peterson. "People can accomplish exactly what you're trying to prohibit, just not with a drone."

Claitor says he decided to bring the bill back up so he could better explain it.

He went over some of the exceptions to the law which include allowing drones to be used in agriculture, crime scene processing, television filming and more.

Claitor says his bill would also prohibit distribution of images captured with a drone.

"So when I fly into Senator Nevers backyard, I can take a picture and I can send it immediately to the internet, if I wish to, through the handy dandy application" Claitor said. "It is a lower level penalty when you distribute it."

The bill now heads to the House.

(picture from brookstone.com of $370 drone that takes pictures)

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Most parents who are involved in the state's voucher program are pleased

A survey released by two pro voucher groups shows 92-percent of the parents who have children participating in the state's voucher program are satisfied and happy with their child's academic progress. President of the Louisiana Federation for Children, Ann Duplessis, says the survey sends a strong message to those who oppose vouchers.

"The survey clearly says that parents want choice, parents want to have the opportunity to create or to provide a better educational opportunity for their kids," Duplessis said. 
The Black Alliance for Educational Options also helped put the survey together.
The state's voucher program, also called the Louisiana Scholarship program, uses state funding to send children, from low income families attending poorly performing public schools, to an approved private school. Duplessis says 87-hundred students have already been awarded a scholarship for next school year.

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5-Day Festival International in Lafayette begins today

Michelle Southern reporting.
The massive Festival International which brings in music and art lovers from all over the world, kicks off today in Lafayette. The annual 5-day festival is always held during the last full week of April.

Kelly Strenge with the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau says this is a multicultural festival that draws thousands.
"We have a large draw from Louisiana and tourism wise of course from Texas, Mississippi and all over the state," said Strenge. "The Festival International draws journalists and visitors and musicians from all over the world."

Strenge says the free festival is a celebration of diversity in music.
She says historic downtown Lafayette is transformed into an entertainment complex featuring six music stages, food court areas, street musicians and more.

"It's very affordable and very easy to get to," said Strenge. "It's just five days of food, music, fine crafts from Louisiana and a world market."

Strenge says they are expecting between 300 to 350 thousand people to attend the festival through the weekend.

You can get more information at festivalinternational.com.
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Study finds only 3 out of 10 adults in Louisiana have a college degree

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a report based on 2012 Census data, Louisiana ranked 49th in the nation for lowest percentage of people who graduate from college. The document from the Lumina Foundation indicated The Bayou State graduates only 29% of the population.

University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley says that's a concern.
"We have to be able to increase the educational attainment of our citizens in order for them to be able, to not only have a living wage, but have a good quality of life," Woodley said.

Woodley says one of the ways they are trying to improve those numbers is through proposed legislation which would create the "WISE" program that would offer incentives to universities for graduating skilled workers.

"We already have lots of examples where companies like IBM, CSC and Century Link have provided resources for the universities to help produce the graduates that they need," said Woodley.

The study found that the only state with a lower percentage of people who had a college degree was West Virginia.

Woodley says they are also working to get more funding from the state to help  higher ed.

She says another thing they're looking at is the 540,000 people in Louisiana who started college but never finished.

"We started an organizational leadership degree that's aimed at these adult students who have some college and want to get back," said Woodley. "If they are already working they can take all of these courses online."

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Bill requiring dogs to be restrained in trucks on interstates squeaks by

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill requiring dogs to be restrained in the beds of pickup trucks passes on the House floor to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out" and heads to Senate. The measure by Kenner Representative Tom Willmott got a close 53-34 go-ahead vote. He says a dog loose in the back of a truck that's going 70 on an interstate is extremely unsafe.

"Think about it, if a dog falls out of a truck in front of you, it's just like an unsecured load," said Willmott. "It creates emergency situations."

Willmott says it's a public safety issue and not to mention when a dog flys out of the back of a truck onto an interstate, it's not a pretty site.

But Bossier City Representative Jeff Thompson is one of the 34 lawmakers who voted against this bill.

He says hunters in his area have no choice but to use interstates when going out with their dogs.

"We've got I-20, 220 and 49 and to go anywhere in town you're going to have to be on these portions of the road," said Thompson.

New Orleans Representative Helena Moreno took to the House Floor to share an experience she had with a dog falling out of a truck in front of her on an interstate.

Willmott says there are three acceptable ways the dog could be restrained: either in a crate, on a short enough rope or in a car top carrier.

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Another bill to lessen marijuana penalties in Louisiana fails

Michelle Southern reporting.
The hot button bill by New Orleans Senator JP Morrell that would lessen marijuana penalties in Louisiana is no more. SB 323, which says anyone charged with pot possession could get no more than 6 months in jail and a $100 fine on every offense, was deferred in committee. Morrell argued that Louisiana needs to join neighboring states on this issue.

"What makes our citizens so dangerous and despicable that in Texas, which is viewed as the toughest state on crime," says Morrell. "They treat all possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor?"

Republican Senator Robert Adley of Benton said he was scolded by his mother when he said he'd support this legislation.

Adley told the story, "I said, 'Mama, I'm just trying to reduce it from a felony to a misdemeanor,' and she said, 'Well they put your nephew in jail for it and I need you to find a way to get that felony off his record!'"

Morell says under present law, a second conviction of marijuana possession is a felony and a third charge could land someone in jail 20 years which he says is ridiculous.

Charles Scott is the President of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and they strongly oppose this bill.

He thinks lowering the marijuana penalties in Louisiana would send a message that we think pot is safe drug.

"Some of this battle needs to take place at the FDA," said Scott. "They have analyzed and still found that it is a Schedule I. That is there is a high likelihood of addiction."

Scott says one in nine adults who smoke marijuana become addicted and when they start as a teen that stat goes to one in six.

He says DA's go to great lengths to not put a felony on someone who is just a young casual user.

"We're mindful of the yolk that would put on them as a felon," Scott says. "And it is not abused."
The bill is essentially dead for the session.

(Image by Andrew Bardwell on Flickr.)

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A bill that goes after an alleged speed trap in St. Landry passes House Transportation

A bill aimed at preventing the town of Washington in St. Landry Parish from writing speeding tickets on I-49 passed out of the House Transportation Committee. Shreveport Rep Alan Seabaugh's measure only allows cities to write speeding tickets on an interstate if more than a half-mile of the interstate is in town limits. 

"This is about abuse, this not about law enforcement, it's about correcting an abuse that's going on in Louisiana that we have the authority to fix," Seabaugh said. 
Seabaugh says only a tiny portion of I-49 is within the city limits of Washington and he believes the Washington police department is abusing its authority to write speeding tickets to help pay for government services. 
The House transportation committee passed the measure on an 11-to-5 vote. Baton Rouge Representative Dalton Honore says he's concerned this bill would hurt law enforcement efforts. 
"You're telling law enforcement who they can and can't stop," Honore said.
The Louisiana Municipal Association also has concerns with the legislation, but assistant director of government affairs, John Gallagher, says the portion of I-49 at the Washington exit has the reputation of being a speed trap area.
"When I'm coming from visiting my parents in Shreveport, when I get to Washington, I get out of my car and push, just to be sure," Gallagher said.


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Heroin users and dealers could be sentenced to 99 years

A bill that would increase the maximum sentence to 99 years for those individuals who are convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing heroin is heading to the House. The full senate approved the measure on a 34-to-2 vote. Senate Bill 87 is sponsored by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor.

"The current maximum for distribution of heroin 50 this pushes the maximum allowable to 99," Claitor said. "The judge doesn't have to give 99, there's no mandatory minimum."
Several parishes have seen a surge in heroin overdose deaths. A bill has also already passed the House that will increase the minimum sentence for heroin producers and distributors from five to ten years. Claitor says the message needs to be sent that the use of this drug has deadly consequences. 
"In my view, people who distribute heroin, distribute death sentences and distribute life sentences this is a 99 year sentence."
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Bill to make the Holy Bible the state book is shelved

There will be no more discussion in this legislative session over whether the Holy Bible should be the official state book of Louisiana. Shreveport Representative Thomas Carmody is the author of the measure and he says the proposal was causing too much of a distraction.

"Talking with members of the legislature, there was a lot of concern about whether or not this was a distraction away from what should really warrant our attention, trying to balance the budget, make sure we are providing for the education of this state," Carmody said.
Carmody says he filed the bill at the request of a constituent in his district who wanted a specific Holy Bible named as the state official state book. The Shreveport lawmaker says the bill was changed in a House committee and he's concerned it may violate the constitution

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Update on bodies found in burned vehicle in Vermilion Parish

The Vermilion Parish Sheriffs office releases more details concerning last week's discovery of two individuals found in a burned out car near Maurice. 

Sheriff Mike Couvillon says an autopsy was preformed on the two bodies. One was a female, while the other was a male but they can't determine their race. They were able to retrieve a couple of items that the individuals were wearing. 
The male victim was wearing two chain necklaces, a link style bracelet, a tongue piercing, and a pair of black tennis shoes with silver stripes. The woman was found wearing a bangle bracelet engraved with the words "I love you more." 
Sheriff Couvillon is urging anyone who could have a missing family member or friend that is known to wear items like these to come forward to help with the identification. To contact the Sheriff's Criminal Investigations Division call (337) 898-4403. 

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