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It’s Mardi Gras Day and the hottest spot to celebrate in the nation today is in Louisiana. Fat Tuesday expert Arthur Hardy, who puts out a comprehensive guide to all things Carnival, says he can not remember the last time we’ve had such beautiful weather for the parades. He says the greater New Orleans area had a 12-day parade season.
 
"To get 12 days with no rain is almost impossible in New Orleans in February or March, come on. And yet I don't think we've had a drop of rain in the entire parade season. It's just remarkable," Hardy said.
 
 There are also events all over south Louisiana today like the unique Courir de Mardi Gras chicken runs in the smaller Cajun towns. Hardy says Zulu gets things kicked off in New Orleans this morning, which is one the oldest African American Club founded in 1909.
 
"And they're actually celebrating their 100th anniversary of their incorporation, 1916, and that's just a marvelous parade," Hardy said. 
 
Hardy says Zulu will be followed by Rex in downtown New Orleans, and at the same time the huge Argus parade begins in Metairie before the popular truck parades. He says since Fat Tuesday fell so early this season, they don’t believe folks are coming out in record numbers — but the crowds are huge:
 
"And the weather certainly brings out people. Again, we can deal with cold; rain, we can't. And thankfully rain has not been an issue this entire season," Hardy said.
 
 
 

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With Louisiana facing historic budget shortfalls, a good government group, the Public Affairs Research Council, recommends ways the state can control its spending. PAR President Robert Travis Scott says one of their suggestions is for Governor John Bel Edwards to come up with a plan to make sure retirement costs and health care plans for employees do not escalate.


"These are some of the boring things we don't like to talk about very much, but they usually cost the state a lot more year to year," Scott said.
 
PAR has published a nine page report on ways to control state spending. Scott says one suggestion is to do away with various tax credits the state gives, like the tax deduction parents receive for sending their child to a private school. 
 
"Don't know we can afford that one anymore and there are several more like that," Scott said.
 
Some of PAR's other recommendations include no merit pay increases for state employees next fiscal year, stay away from funding local pork projects and no more tax amnesty programs. Scott admits legislators have a difficult task in front of them. 
 
"The immediate problem is so serious that it's difficult to fix that and to do some really good, positive things for the long term. That's going to be one of the great challenges for the session," Scott said. 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
New Republican Louisiana Speaker of the House Taylor Barras says he was anticipating more proposed spending reforms in Governor John Bel Edwards call for the special session which begins Sunday. Barras says, as expected, the governor's call included a list of revenue raising options, primarily with tax changes.


"Our Republican group was hoping that there would be at least some items in there that would give us the opportunity to talk structural fixes," said Barras.

The session begins Valentine's Day at 4pm, and must end 6pm, March 9th.

Barras says their first focus will be on what needs to be done in the current year as they quickly come up with the more than $750 needed to fill the budget hole by July 1st. He says, of course, every administration tries to avoid cuts to higher ed and healthcare.

"Unfortunately when revenue is short, and those are constitutionally the only areas you can look to, that's where the pain is usually inflicted," said Barras.

Barras says he expects that when the governor presents next fiscal year's executive budget to lawmakers this weekend, it will have $2 billion dollars removed from various departments to fill the gap.

He says from that point you've got to work out ways to keep certain areas up and running, then consider what you can live without over the next 12 months.

"That extends to contracts that a lot of agencies use to third parties," said Barras. "That's included in the call as well."
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Louisiana's economy is just one out of those in seven states in the nation that did not end 2015 on a strong note, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. The index shows our economy contracting during the last three months of the year.


LSU Economist Dr. Loren Scott says the impact of the oil cuts are hitting Louisiana really hard.

"All of the major oil companies are cutting back on their capital budgets by a lot," says Scott. "Many of them are exiting the Gulf of Mexico and going into the shale plays in West Texas."
 
Scott says the big hits Louisiana incurred were in Houma and Lafayette, with employment down three and a half and two and a half percent. He says the historic low oil prices have hammered most areas all over Louisiana.
 
"Mater of fact, of the nine metropolitan areas that we have in the state, only two are growing right now and that's Baton Rouge and Lake Charles," said Scott.
 
Scott says the state as a whole began losing jobs in September of last year. He says they hope to see some upward growth in mid 2016, but that will mostly depend on Saudi Arabia.
 
"They could change this in a heartbeat by simply turning the faucet off and not plugging so much oil in the market," said Scott.
 
 
 

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For the second time in two weeks there has been a shooting along a Mardi Gras parade route in Louisiana. A week ago, there was a shooting in Thibodaux and last night shots rang out during the Bacchus Parade. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser says this must stop.


 "Man, we've got to clean up the crime, and you know, the New Orleans police do a great job. Every time you hear about one of these guys getting picked up with a gun or shooting, you see they've been arrested two, three dozen times," Nungesser said.
 
No one was injured at last night’s shooting at the Bacchus Parade. Authorities recovered a gun but no arrests have been made. Nungesser says it’s time for the prosecutors and lawyers to stop letting career criminals back on the streets.
 
"It's all these repeat offenders that keep committing these crimes. I mean, when's the last time you heard of somebody getting arrested for armed robbery with a gun and it's their first offense," Nungesser said.
 
Nungesser says Mardi Gras celebrations bring in a huge majority of revenue and tourism for New Orleans and they have to make sure crime doesn’t effect that.
 
 
 

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A Crowley man has been arrested for allegedly stabbing two Acadia Parish Narcotic Agents. 42-year-old Jason Broussard is facing multiple charges including 2 counts of Attempted First Degree Murder. Maxine Trahan with the Acadia Parish Sheriff’s Office says the agents responded to a call after Broussard was causing a disturbance at a grocery store.

“Started searching the outer grounds of the store and located Mr. Broussard in the back of a store in a small building. The agents attempted to make an arrest, he began violently fighting with them.”

Trahan says Broussard was arrested by deputies while trying to flee the scene after stabbing the two agents. She says both officers were immediately transported to the hospital to treat their stab wounds.


“One was treated and released, the other was kept overnight because he has a stab wound really close to his lung, so they just wanted to be sure there wasn’t a puncture or anything. He was released and they’re both home recovering.”

Trahan says Broussard had outstanding warrants at the time of his arrest. He is being held in at the Acadia Parish Jail on a one million dollar bond.

“He was charged with 2 counts of attempted first degree murder, resisting, and he had a weapon on him. He was also arrested for the outstanding warrants we had on him for felon in possession of a firearm and resisting an officer.”

 
(Photo courtesy of Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office)  
 
 

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Republican Congressman Ralph Abraham has introduced legislation in an effort to stimulate agribusiness. The proposed FAME act changes the depreciation schedule for farm equipment. Abraham says it makes a simple adjustment to the tax code to shorten the depreciation schedule on farm equipment to five years rather than seven.

“A shorter schedule means that farmer can deduct the cost of equipment investments from their taxable income over a shorter period of the. That kind of puts the farmers on equal footing with the other businesses.”

Abraham says other businesses typically have a five year depreciation schedule for their durable equipment. He says this will help put money in the farmers’ pockets.


“Farmers right now with commodity prices being so low, production costs being so high, they are going to struggle this year to make any profit at all.”

Abraham says often times farm equipment breaks down and stops working before seven years. He says the FAME act already has eight other co-sponsors in the U.S. House.

“We’ve already got some that will be introducing it through their committee so to speak. It should go very quickly, I see a lot of bipartisan support. It’s just a win-win.”

 
 
 

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The burn chamber created to burn 16 million pounds of M6 propellant at Camp Minden begins its trek today on highways through four northwest Louisiana parishes. The Department of Transportation is advising drivers to prepare for delays. DOTD Spokesperson Cindy Dorfner says because of its size, the chamber can only go 15 miles per hour.

“This thing is massive, it’s about 180 feet long, about 25 feet tall, 27 maybe and then 25 feet wide. It’s just humongous.”

Dorfner says the chamber will be transported on a truck through Natchitoches, Red River, Bossier until it finally reaches Camp Minden in Webster Parish on Thursday. She says traffic will be especially bad when the chamber reaches south Bossier on Wednesday because it will close down an intersection.

“There’s going to be some law enforcement out there to help traffic navigate around it when it’s possible. There are going to be some times when it’s not possible.”

Dorfner says motorists can check the chamber’s exact route and approximate time on DOTD’s website. She says multiple electric companies will be out to ease power outages and they ask for people not to cluster around to watch the massive load pass.

“Not only is there really nothing to see and they’re not throwing Mardi Gras beads from it so there is nothing to catch from the burn chamber but it really is just going to add to the traffic.”

 
 
 

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Super Bowl 50 is in the books, so what do the Saints need to do to get back in the postseason? NFL analyst Mike Detillier says fixing the defense should be the Saints first priority this offseason.
 
"You are good enough on offense to win games, but you can't finish 29th, 30th, 31st in the league on defense in most of the major categories and it's been an issue for the last 3 years," Detillier said.  

Detillier says the Saints will look to either draft or sign a pass rusher, a run stuffing defensive tackle and a cornerback to replace Brandon Browner, who could be officially released on Monday. He says hopefully the Saints will make some better decisions when it comes to their free agent signees. 
 
"Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman, Anthony Spencer, Jim Leonard, Champ Bailey, Brandon Browner, whif, whif, whif, across the board," Detillier said.
 
On offense, Detillier expects the Saints to sign Quarterback Drew Brees to a contract extension, which could free up more salary cap space for the upcoming season. He says expect the Black and Gold to also bolster the offensive line and look for them to provide Brees with another pass catching target.
 
"I think they'll use a fairly high draft choice on a big man receiver, someone to take the place of Marques Colston," Detillier said.
 
 
 
 
 

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For much of the year, LSU has leaned on freshman sensation Ben Simmons to win games. But on Saturday against Mississippi State, it was the Tigers other much hyped freshman that led the way in an 88-77 victory over the Bulldogs.

Antonio Blakeney scored a career-high 31 points on 11-17 shooting from the field, including four 3-pointers. Blakeney also had 7 rebounds.   
 
This game did not start well for the Tigers. They fell behind by 14 points in the 1st half, but Keith Hornsby hit three 3-pointers to help spark a rally that led to a 43-35 lead at halftime.
 
Hornsby had his best game in the SEC as he scored 25 points and finished with five 3-pointers.
 
LSU's only double digit scorer was Simmons who had 16 points, 9 rebounds and seven assists. 
 
The victory improves LSU's record to 15-8 overall, 8-2 in the SEC and in sole possession of first place in the league. The Tigers went into the day in a tie for first place with Texas A&M, but the Aggies lost to South Carolina 81-78.
 
LSU faces both of those teams in the coming week. They visit the Gamecocks on Wednesday and then host the A&M on Saturday.  
 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards has issued the call for a special legislative session to address a 750-million dollar budget shortfall this fiscal year and a 1.9 billion dollar shortfall next fiscal year.
 
The session will start February 14th and end no later than March 9th at 6 PM. During those three-and-a half weeks, lawmakers will debate various budget cuts and tax increases.

The call gives the parameters on what they can do during the session. And that's raising the state sales tax by a penny, increasing cigarette and alcohol taxes and making changes to personal income tax brackets that could lead to additional revenue. 
 
Legislators will also be able to file bills to bring back an expired rental car tax and require retailers to collect tax on online sales.
 
"I have listened to legislators and have drafted a broad call allowing flexibility to consider both cuts and raising money for the state," Edwards said. "Now is the time for legislators to join with me to resolve these problems to begin filing bills that contain specific and workable solutions for the people of Louisiana, who deserve our very best right now."  
 
But Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras of New Iberia issued a statement wishing the session allowed for more budget reform initiatives that could reduce state spending.  
 
"While some non-tax items are included, many were anticipating more opportunity to address structural and spending reforms," Barras said. "We look forward to working with the Administration through this process and know our House members are committed to moving forward with responsible solutions."  
 
 

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Chevron North America has informed the Louisiana Workforce Commission about possible layoffs at five office locations in Covington and Lafayette. A total of 385 employees could be affected, 340 at the office locations and 45 offshore workers.


Eric Smith, Associate Director at the Tulane Energy Institute, says the low oil prices initially impacted independent oil producers, but now major companies are feeling the affects.
 
"As things have generally slowed down across the board and as demand has not recovered as much as people thought it would, you're seeing the majors having to go through some cutbacks."

Chevron says the cuts will begin April 4th and should be complete by June 7th. Smith believes the layoffs are primarily coming in upstream business, which is what they call the process of drilling and operations in getting oil out of the ground.

"At the moment, over half of our jobs in the oil industry are in refining and petro-chemicals, not in the upstream, and those jobs seem to holding up pretty well."

The company says they will help laid-off employees find jobs in other Chevron locations and offer severance packages to those unable to find one. Smith expects even more layoffs are coming.

"We simply can't produce oil and gas offshore for the kinds of prices we can count on, today." 

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New Orleans attorney Caroline Fayard is the first Democrat to enter Louisiana's US Senate race. Fayard has never held political office, but did run for Lt. Governor in 2010.


Fayard says she's running for the Senate because she doesn't want the rest of the country to take Louisiana for granted and that starts in Washington, D.C.
 
"I want to explain to the people up in D.C., that I think are fighting over the wrong things and taking their eye off the ball, how important Louisiana is to the rest of the country and what we bring to the table."

A release from her campaign describes Fayard as a "pro-life, pro-business Democrat." She believes there are too many career politicians in Congress and voters are upset with the level of service they're getting from their government.

"It's time to have a fresh face and a fresh start and have someone who can really articulate the concerns of hard working American families."

She says this election isn't about politics, it's about what is right for the people of Louisiana. Political pundits have said that Fayard's chances of winning would be greatly increased if she remains the only major Democrat in the race. Fayard says she welcomes competition.

"I look forward to a robust debate with any opponents about where we need to go, not only as a state, but also as a country." 

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Discussions have started about forming another high school athletic association. It’s in response to a vote by member principals of the LHSAA who decided to expand the championship split to basketball, baseball and softball.Paul Rainwater organized a meeting with several high school principals and AD’s to discuss what it would take to form a new organization.

"I'm working with a steady group to come up with a structure, come up with a constitution, come up with a budget."
 
Rainwater is former Governor Bobby Jindal's former chief of staff and also served as commissioner of administration.  

One possible hurdle is that the National Federation of State High School Associations recognizes just one high school association in each state and that’s currently the LHSAA. Rainwater says that’s a challenge they can overcome.

"Obviously there is a way to reach out to a national federation and see what they're willing to do and what the criteria is to recognize another school and if there is some kind of process."

Rainwater says more meetings will take place in the coming weeks. He plans to have a constitution and structure ready to present to interested schools in May.

"We're looking at revenue sharing among schools, waving some fees. There are some things that we think we can do that could be a more efficient use of money."

 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
You can be sure there are plenty of fans in Louisiana who will be cheering on New Orleans native Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the Super Bowl Sunday. Isidore Newman High School football coach Nelson Stewart played with Manning for the Greenies from 1991-1993.


He's not surprised the 39-year-old is playing for his fourth Super Bowl, even though it was a difficult season.

"I think it makes it even more special because he had to battle so much adversity to get there," says Stewart. "It's almost like when everyone counted him out he rose up to the biggest challenge."

Some are wondering if this is going to be Manning's last game of his hall of fame career. But Stewart says knowing Manning, his only focus right now is on Super Bowl 50.

"I've learned the past few weeks you just can't count him out," said Stewart. "I guess it remains to be seen, but I really think he's going to look at it after the Super Bowl and that he hasn't decided yet."

Stewart says their entire school at every grade level is getting together for a massive pep rally at 10 where they'll be cheering and passing out orange and blue beads.

"We're just as excited as we've ever been," said Stewart. "And I think we're savoring this one even more."
 
 
 
 

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Everyone knows Mardi Gras festivities are huge in New Orleans, but southwest Louisiana has some great celebrations of their own. Meghan Hartman with the Lake Charles Southwest Convention and Visitors Bureau says Lake Charles has the second biggest Mardi Gras in the state. She says they’re proud of the fact their parades are family friendly.

“We have designated spots along the parade route that are alcohol and tobacco free. It all kicks off this weekend. Friday night there is a parade, Saturday there’s parades.”

Hartman says in Lake Charles this weekend there’s a Cajun gumbo cook-off, a community zydeco dance, The Krewe of Barkus Parade, and a children’s parade. She says people travel from all over to attend these Mardi Gras celebrations.

“Our casino resorts are such a big draw for out-of-towners to come in and experience Mardi Gras and then so many of the events are free or minimal entry fees.”

Hartman says every year the festivities get bigger and bigger in southwest Louisiana. She says this Mardi Gras the Society of American Travel Writers is coming in for a convention and to join in the celebrations.

“So, I think that with media coverage like that we’re going to continue to see growth in our Mardi Gras festivities.”

 
 
 

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We are expecting Governor John Bel Edwards will issue the call for a special legislative session today. Jeremy Alford, with lapolitics.com, says the call outlines which tax measures the governor will ask legislators to vote on, to help close a 750-million dollar budget deficit for this fiscal year.


"The governor is talking about adding a penny to the state sales tax, increasing the cigarette tax and retooling the personal and corporate income tax brackets," Edwards said.
 
A three-and-a-half week special session is expected to start on February 14th. Alford says republicans in the legislature are pushing the governor to include in the call, opportunities where significant budget cuts can be made.
 
"Before conservatives get to the point where they have to raise revenue, they want to first look at ways in which to cut spending, which Governor Edwards is going to do on his own as well," Alford said.  

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The Republican Party of Louisiana has launched their "Red to the Roots" campaign. The initiative is an effort to identify, engage, and register new conservative voters across Louisiana.


Executive Director Jason Dore says although the number of Republicans registering to vote is increasing, they're not comfortable with some recent trends in voter registration.
 
"Democrat registration has gone down, but at the same time Independent/Other Party has been increasing and we feel like we can't take it for granted."

He says the $2 million dollar campaign will put permanent boots on the ground in Louisiana with a primary focus of registering conservative voters. Dore believes this effort will not only help the GOP in this year's presidential and US Senate elections, but in future elections as well.

"This is really looking forward even to 2019 and the next governor's race. We obviously lost the governor's mansion last year and we want to start now building our grass roots efforts for then."

As of February 1st, there are 1.3 million registered Democratic voters in the state, 828,000 Republicans, and 756,000 Independent/Other Party voters. Dore says it's important to the Republican Party to have as many conservative voters registered in the state as possible.

"Louisiana has a fairly high registration rate, I think like 84-percent of all eligible voters are registered. But we've identified a significant pool of conservative voters who are not registered and that's who we're going to be talking to." 

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Several republicans are running in Louisiana's US Senate race and now we have our first Democrat. New Orleans lawyer Caroline Fayard, who unsuccessfully ran for Lt. Governor in 2010, has announced she's looking to replace outgoing Senator David Vitter. Pollster Bernie Pinsonat says we'll wait to see if other democrats get in the race.
 
"I think she got in the race early to keep other democrats out," Pinsonat said. "I think it would be great for her if it's just her."

It's been rumored Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell is also eyeing a US Senate candidate. Pinsonat says Fayard's chances of winning will increase if she's the only major democrat in the race. 
 
"She doesn't have to share money with the national democratic party, she would get to be there candidate that's a big plus for her," Pinsonat said.
 
Pinsonat says Fayard will get millions of dollars in donations from the legal community and her family has deep pockets too. Pinsonat says Fayard will also need a little help from the republican candidates in the race.  
 
"Will the republicans help her this year and destroy each other, which made John Bel Edwards possible in becoming governor," Pinsonat said.  
 
 
 
 

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The state Department of Transportation is surveying an Iberia Parish railroad crossing where five people died in December. DOTD Spokesperson Rodney Mallett says gates were installed over 10 years ago and a “do not stop on tracks” sign was also installed. He says they’ll see if any additional safety features can be added at this intersection and others in Iberia Parish.

“Crash reports certainly play a role but also there is the changing nature of these intersections like increased traffic volumes, or do we need to do a speed study to adjust the speed limits on these routes?”

Mallett says it’s a tragedy when an accident with a train occurs. He reminds drivers to always look out and listen when coming close to a train track.


“Don’t mess around with the train tracks, don’t stop on the train tracks because you can find yourself in a bad situation. We’ve seen people drive around gates believe it or not, don’t do that. Be patient and be aware.”

Mallett says on average there has been one crash per year at this railroad crossing intersection for the last four years. He says their study involves observing traffic volumes, the speed of vehicles crossing the tracks and additional reports.

“It’s going to take probably two or three months for us to probably finish it. After that they’ll probably review that traffic data, make a determination of what they can do for added safety features here.”

 
 
 

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