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Destrehan High School sex scandal teacher pleads not guilty

The Destrehan High School teacher involved in a sex scandal with a 16-year-old student pleads not guilty today. 

34-year-old Shelley Dufrense appeared in court Tuesday and was officially charged with carnal knowledge of a juvenile in St. Charles Parish. The suspect is accused of arranging to meet at another teacher's apartment in September with the, then, 16-year-old male student for a threesome. 

Dufrense is out on $200,000 bond and her house restrictions were also loosened up today so she can help her husband out with their three young children and attend Jazzercise class.

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Family fights dog ban

A Moreauville family is fighting the town that is trying to enact a ban on vicious dogs.  Joanna Armand, whose family owns a pit bull named Zeus, is fighting to lift that ban.  Armand began an online petition and it has already generated over 245,000 signatures.  

She's also reaching out to dog owners in Moreauville and Avoyelles Parish.
"Because if it's going to be just pit bulls and rottweilers, right now, who knows in the future it could spread to German Shepherds or boxers or dobermans or huskies."

Moreauville passed an ordinance banning pit bulls and rottweilers from town limits.  If the ban goes into effect, the family would be forced to give up one-year-old Zeus, who has no history of aggressive behavior.  Armand says giving up Zeus would devastate her family since the dog provides love and support for four of her children who have special needs.

"For each of them he has a place.  He has a job with them.  And that is a job he's taken on solely himself that he's acquired, he's learned.  And that's their outlet.  That is their helper."

Armand calls Zeus a "Mom's Helper" for the role he has taken with her children.  It's reported the ordinance was passed because several residents said they were chased by dogs in neighborhoods, although no attacks have been documented.  The ban was to go into effect December 1, but that date has been put on hold.  Armand feels the town handled this situation in the wrong way.

"I don't think it was put to a town vote.  It was strictly five people sitting up on a bench that decided the fate of basically the thousand plus residents of Moreauville."

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Lawmaker wants extended early voting to make up for Holidays

Michelle Southern reporting.
A Monroe lawmaker filed a lawsuit this week seeking to extend the early voting period for the December 6th runoff because two days were lost this time due to the Thanksgiving Holidays. Governor Bobby Jindal declared this Friday a state holiday, Acadian Day, and polls are closed.

Representative Marcus Hunter says he hopes the court knows the will of the legislature when it comes to voting.

"The intent has always been to give the voter every opportunity to vote," said Hunter.

Hunter says this election, with the US-Senate race at the top of the ballot, is too important to shorten the amount of time someone is given the opportunity to vote. He says he hopes a judge will add those two extra days back.

"I would like to see the judges ruling extend early voting to Friday and Monday or Monday and Tuesday," said Hunter.

Hunter says it's the responsibility of Secretary of State Tom Schedler to make sure voter turnout in Louisiana is as high as it can possibly be. But Schedler says the law is the law.

"When a Governor calls a declared Holiday, as he has, then voting is suspended," said Schedler.

Hunter says he hopes his case will be heard either today or tomorrow before the judges take off for Thanksgiving. Schedler says this is not the first time that polls have been closed during the early voting period when state offices are closed.

"But it is the first time we've ever been challenged in court," Schedler said.

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Diabetes costs Louisiana $5 billion a year

As the rate of diabetes continues to rise, new numbers show the disease costs Louisiana's five-billion dollars a year.  The study was conducted by LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
The facility's executive director, Dr. William Cefalu, says the cost of prediabetes went up 74-percent and undiagnosed diabetes grew 82-percent since 2007. 

"The real increase in costs of diabetes and prediabetes is just the sheer number of cases."

Nationally, the cost of diabetes has grown to $322 billion per year in excess medical costs and lost productivity.  Cefalu says diabetes is becoming an economic burden for the entire country.

"I think it was stated that one in ten dollars is now spent on this condition."

Cefalu says increased awareness and action to stem the disease is needed to cut down the cost.  He says previous studies show that prediabetes can be controlled.

"This is where lifestyle and increased physical activity, we know we can reduce greatly the number of cases progressing to diabetes." 
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Saints drop 3rd straight at the Superdome

Last week it was Jeremy Hill who ran through the Saints defense, on Monday night Baltimore's Justin Forsett rushed for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Ravens beat the Saints 34-27.
The loss snaps New Orleans 14-game winning streak in home prime time games. It also marks the first time in 13 years the Saints have lost three in the Superdome. 

But New Orleans still shares the lead in the NFC South with Atlanta, despite a 4-and-7 record. The Falcons own the tie breaker, because they beat New Orleans in the season opener.
The Saints had momentum going into halftime as Quarterback Drew Brees connected with Marques Colston on a 26-yard touchdown pass. Colston's TD catch gave New Orleans a 17-14 halftime lead.
But Baltimore took control of the game in the 3rd quarter, with the game tied at 17, the Ravens Will Hill intercepted Brees and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.
Brees threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, but that interception was the difference in the game.  
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Louisiana employment continues to set records

The state continues to set new employment records. Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Curt Eysink says total nonfarm employment in Louisiana reached 1,988,900 in October, which is a new record high.

"We have more jobs than ever before, more people working than ever before, and the number of people available to work is bigger than it's ever been in Louisiana," Eysink said. 
Eysink says the number of private employment jobs has grown by 31-thousand over the last year.
The state's unemployment rate is also going up, along with the number of people who are employed. The unemployment rate for October was six-point-two percent, up four-percentage points from last year. Eysink says it's an indicator people are responding to the state's strong job growth. 
"To people who are now thinking, well maybe I'll get back into the workforce there are jobs there. And I think we are seeing people maybe moving into Louisiana for the jobs that we have," Eysink said. 
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Edwards slams Graves at Press Club

Michelle Southern reporting.
Former Governor Edwin Edwards took several shots at his opponent in the 6th Congressional District race in a debate where Garret Graves did not show up. Edwards accuses Graves of playing dirty politics in a flyer he sent out prior to the November 4th election that may lead voters to believe Paul Deitzel is gay.

"It was scurrilous and unfair and I thought it was subject to innuendos that can neither be proven or dis-proven," said Edwards. "In campaigns this really hurts."

Edwards is also accusing Graves of helping his family profit from Government contracts when he was the head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Under that leadership, Edwards says Graves' father was awarded $130 million dollars in state contracts and he bought coastal restoration office space then made his brother-in-law the leasing agent.

"When you look at what he did for his father and his brother-in-law, I think he's very correct in saying he's a family man," said Edwards. "But what about our families? What did we get out of his tenure spending all that money over all that time?"

Graves and Edwards are scheduled to face off in a debate on December 2nd in Denham.

Edwards was asked if he thought Senator Mary Landrieu was affecting his campaign. The former governor joked that it's The President hurting them both.

"Both Mary and I would be better off if Obama died tomorrow, but I'm not wishing that," Edwards said. "In a way it helps because Mary is working hard to get the vote out and I can assume that most of her voters would also vote for me in this district."

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Benson donates $11 million to Hall of Fame

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson has pledged two gifts to the Pro Football Hall of Fame totaling $11 million.  This is the largest individual contribution in the Hall's 51 year history.

Vice President of Communications Pete Fierle says Hall President David Baker approached Benson earlier this season.
"...to talk about the Hall of Fame Village that is being planned for the Hall of Fame and things came together very, very quickly."

$10 million of Benson's donation will be used to renovate Fawcett Stadium, which will now be called Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.  The renovations will allow the stadium to be used for other sporting and entertainment events.  The additional $1 million will help construct the Hall of Fame's Legends Landing.

"Which will be a place where the former greats of the game, whether they be hall of famers or even other legends who've played this game, that if they fall on hard times that they actually have a place to literally land."

He says the Hall of Fame Village, and the various programs that will run from it, will help teach the values of the game and how you can apply them to all parts of life.  Fierle feels Benson made this donation because he shares the Hall's vision of what Hall of Fame Village represents.

"It is really more than the game.  It's not only preserving the past, that the Hall of Fame does so well, but it's also creating the future, not only for the game of football, but for this country."

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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner up slightly

It looks like your Thanksgiving meal will cost a little more this year, according to an informal survey by the American Farm Bureau Association. The average price for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 will cost $49.41, 37 cents more than last year.  

Louisiana Farm Bureau Association's Avery Davidson says the biggest price hikes you'll see in your feast are proteins, particularly turkey and beef.
"We have fewer turkeys going through processing this year than in past years.  When you look at beef prices, those are brought up by the fact that we have the smallest beef herd in about 30, 40 years."

Davidson says some good news is the price increases aren't very much and, in fact, some items cost less this year.

"Fresh cranberries are going to be about 8 cents cheaper this year, you're going to save a penny on the rolls.  It's just that big turkey that's going to cost you a little more this year." 

He says, although this year's Thanksgiving meal cost is up, it's still lower than we paid in 2012.  Davidson has a suggestion if you're looking for a deal on sweet potatoes or yams.

"You can find those right now at almost any farmer's market and you might be able to get a better deal there than you will in the grocery store."

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Cajuns and Bulldogs lose their first conference games of the year

The Ragin Cajuns fell out of a tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference as they lost to Appalachian State 35-16 on Saturday at Cajun Field. The Mountaineers dominated at the line of scrimmage, rushing for 232 yards. Appalachian State running back Marcus Cox rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Cajuns Coach Mark Hudspeth says his defense got away from its gap responsibilities.
"I think any back in the country that can run against a defense that don't have everybody in their gaps," Hudspeth said.
Quarterback Terrance Broadway did not have a good performance in his final game at Cajun field. The senior from Baton Rouge threw for only 160 yards and he was held to two yards rushing. Hudspeth gives a lot of credit to the Mountaineers defense. 
"They took away his option game tonight, they were making us give the ball, sort of made us sort of us a little bit one dimensional," Hudspeth said. "That's part of their game plan, was not to make him run the ball and they did a nice job of that."
Louisiana Tech also dropped its first league game of the season as they lost to Old Dominion 30-27 in overtime on saturday. Tech led 24-14 at halftime, but failed to score a touchdown the rest of the way. Bulldogs Coach Skip Holtz says it was a disappointing second half. 
"We came out here in the second half, couldn't execute on third down and couldn't stay on the field," Holtz said.
La Tech will wrap up the regular season this Saturday against Rice. The winner will advance to the C-USA Championship game against Marshall. Holtz says his guys can't let Saturday's loss linger.
"You gotta put this one behind you," Holtz said. 
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Homelessness in Louisiana has fallen 63 percent over the past four years

According to a report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness in Louisiana has declined nearly 12 percent since last year and roughly 63 percent since 2010. 

Louisiana Housing Corporation Executive Director Fred Tombar says one of the key factors has been the state's implementation of the $146 million dollar Permanent Supportive Housing Program.
"What we're able to do in Louisiana is pair these people with the types of services that they need, as well as put a decent safe and sanitary roof over their head," said Tombar.

Tombar says they work with local non-profit organizations throughout the state with the same goal of finding people who are on the street and have a need.

"With both a housing unit and services," said Tombar. "We make sure they get the federal funding for both."

There are an estimated 4,606 homeless people in Louisiana this year compared to 5,226 last year and 12,482 four years ago. Baton Rouge and New Orleans have the largest concentrations of homeless individuals. 

Tombar says the ultimate goal is to eradicate chronic homelessness.

"We believe it can be done just based on the progress we've made over the past four years," said Tombar.

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State Farm surveys drivers about cell phone habits behind the wheel

A recent State Farm survey found drivers are still texting and driving, even though they know its dangerous. 52 percent of those polled admit they have talked on a cell phone while driving and 34 percent say they have texted while driving.  State Farm Spokesperson Gary Stephenson says there has been an increase in the use of hands free cell phones.

"About 80 percent of drivers do say that sending a text is very distracting and 68 percent say reading a text is very distracting however that habit has not diminished very much at all," Stephenson says. 
Stephenson says 77 percent of young drivers say they believe they can safely text while driving. But he says some people acknowledged when the road conditions were bad, they reduced their cell phone use. 
"That is sort of admitting there is a distraction factor here but people seem to think that if the road is open or it seems to be clear it is safe to be distracted," Stephenson says. 
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration says 80 percent of crashes are due to distracted driving. Stephenson says drivers now use their phones to read emails, access social media and use the internet, in addition to texting. 
"Smart phone use and ownership is growing dramatically. Three years ago, 52 percent of drivers owned a smart phone. Three years later in 2014, 80 percent own a smart phone," Stephenson says.  
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Jindal plugs deficit by reducing spending; higher ed spared

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols announced the state plans to use amnesty money, eliminate 167 unused positions and reduce spending as part of the plan to fill the state’s current $171 million dollar budget shortfall.
Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com says this falls in line with Jindal’s promise higher ed would be spared mid-year cuts.

"Higher ed really didn't get touched at all and no jobs were lost," said Alford.

The deficit was tied to low severance tax and mineral royalties from dropping oil prices, combined with weak growth in personal income taxes. 
Alford says the Jindal Administration said it’s found $130 million in unused funding.

"Basically the Governor on his own is reducing spending," Alford said.

Alford says says there will be another meeting in December by the Joint Budget Committee to review the plan more thoroughly and make a final vote. 

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Teen given citation in fatal Ouachita Parish crash

The teenager who was driving the vehicle that crashed in Ouachita Parish and killed 5 of the 8 family members on board was issued a citation for careless operation.  The family was on their way from Texas to Disney World for a vacation.  

State Trooper Michael Reichardt says the teen, who has not been identified, was cited when he was released from the hospital.
"...with a traffic citation for careless operation.  It's just a regular traffic ticket.  He was not charged with a crime."

Reichardt says the teen is having to deal with so much right now.

"You know, this 16-year-old is going through the most horrific thing he'll ever go through in his life.  It's just a tragic accident."

Two adults, Michael and Trudy Hardman, and three of their children, 15-year-old Dakota Watson, 7-year-old Adam Hardman, and 5-year-old Kaci Hardman were killed in the crash.  Reichardt says the teenager was issued a citation because it's State Police policy.

"If we work a crash, regardless of the severity of the crash, there will be a citation written."
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"Click It or Ticket" campaign underway for Thanksgiving holiday

As we near the Thanksgiving holiday, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission is coordinating a statewide Click It of Ticket campaign aimed at saving lives. Executive Director Lt. Col. John Leblanc says last year's Thanksgiving holiday was one of the most dangerous of the year on Louisiana roadways. 

"There were 409 fatal and injury accidents during that holiday period, five fatals and 689 injuries."

He says Louisiana's seat belt compliance rate is 82.5-percent, the highest it's ever been.  Leblanc says the compliance rate has gone up 8-percent in the last four years.

"Statisticians tell us that every time the compliance rate goes up one percentage point, about eight lives are saved in Louisiana, so we're happy about that.  But we still lag behind the national average which is 87-percent."

He says the Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest for travel with more vehicles on the road and a greater chance of accidents.  Louisiana law requires all people to use seat belts and Leblanc says it's important to "Click It" to reduce the risk of fatal injury in an accident.

"You increase your chances of surviving by about 45-percent when you wear your seat belt when involved in an accident." 
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Cassidy has large lead in Senate poll

There's a new Rasmussen poll out on the December 6th US-Senate runoff and it shows incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu with 41% of the vote and Congressman Bill Cassidy with 56%. UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says there are several factors working against Landrieu's chances at re-election.
"Popularity of Barack Obama, the failure to pass the Keystone, the changing political climate of Louisiana and its increasing conservatism and its increasing move to the Republican party," Cross says. 
In the survey just three percent said they were undecided. Cross says there is also an enormous amount of money being spent to try to defeat Landrieu now that other races across the country are over. But he says a 15 point Landrieu deficit seems a bit high.

"Remember she got 42 percent just in the primary so one would think she'd get a few more percentage points but still that is a devastating margin and its a margin that means winning is well outside the margin or error," Cross says. 

The survey also found that only 76% of registered Democrats in Louisiana would vote for Landrieu. Cross says it's not good that the incumbent isn't even getting good numbers from her own party.

"Frankly, the reflects the fact that there are many, many white democrats and white democrats are increasingly voting Republican but haven't changed their registration yet," Cross says. 
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Louisiana business consultant says President's immigration reform doesn't go far enough

President Barack Obama announced his plans for immigration reform last night, but there are many who say more needs to be done. Local business consultant Randy Hayden says the new Congress that is sworn in next year should look at making more working visas available, which could help with the state's worker shortage.

"There is a limit nationally on how many visas we can get, so that stifles the growth of Louisiana businesses, it stifles the growth of our economy," Hayden says. 
Hayden says with the state on the cusp of an economic boom, experts predict we'll have trouble finding enough workers in the areas of science, technology  and engineering and math. Hayden says fixing the nation's current worker visa program could help.

"Our encouragement is that the new congress will address those issues and turn immigration reform into an opportunity to improve our economy and make things better for everybody in Louisiana," Hayden says.
Hayden says one area of reform desperately needed deals with foreign students who are a educated by a Louisiana college and university, but then can't stay after graduation because they can't get a visa.

"We can't offer them an opportunity to take their skills and talents and serve Louisiana citizens, serve American citizens then we end up sending them back home to compete against us," Hayden says. 
(Image from Visa HQ)
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Early voting for December runoff elections begins Saturday

The early voting period for the December 6th runoff elections begins Saturday.  Secretary of State Tom Schedler says early voting will run through next Saturday November 29th excluding a few days.

"The exception would be the Sunday in between and Thanksgiving Day and Friday."

Schedler says there is no early voting next Friday because of an executive order from Governor Jindal declaring the day after Thanksgiving a state holiday.  He is predicting a 30 to 35-percent voter turnout for the December runoff election.  But Schedler expects voter turnout in the 5th and 6th Congressional districts to outpace the rest of the state.

"Those two Congressional Districts will probably be the heaviest because you'll be drawing in the Senate race and the Congressional races."

Schedler says, even though control of the Senate has already been decided, it is still important to hit your polling place, even if it the US Senate race is the only item on your ballot.

"I believe there are several parishes that are free of everything else.  It was all resolved in November."

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Mid-year budget cuts to be revealed today

The Jindal Administration will be announcing mid-year budget cuts today. Louisiana is facing a $171 million dollar revenue shortfall. Jindal's chief administrator has indicated that higher education will avoid any substantial cuts, but Senate Finance chairman Jack Donahue doesn't see that being possible.

"It's very surprising that they could cut $171 million without impacting the budget," said Donahue.

There are many dedicated budget items that can't be cut so typically higher education and heath care are hit hardest. Donahue says he's all ears to see what the Jindal Administration has in mind.

"This is an incredible amount of money," said Donahue. "I mean we fight in the legislature over $10,000."

Higher education in Louisiana has been dealt massive cuts in state funding over the past sevearl years. Donahue says we're dealing with major revenue shortage and he feels the the state gives away too much money in tax credits. 

He says dollars seem to go as soon as they come in and Louisiana can't get seem to get ahead.

"I would like to try to do something to reign in those exemptions," said Donahue. "We need to make sure we understand how much we're giving away and that we're getting the bang for the buck."

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Report: Louisiana black bears unlikely to become extinct

A new study from the US Geological Survey finds there's less than a one-percent chance of the Louisiana black bear population going extinct in the next 100 years. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, Maria Davidson, says they hope this report will result in the Louisiana Black Bear being removed from the Endangered Species List. 

"The department (LDWF) feels like we are certainly there, but that decision is up to the US Fish and Wildlife Service," Davidson said. 
Davidson says they don't have an exact number of how many Louisiana black bears are out there. She can say it's relatively small, but healthy population. 
It's estimated there were only 80 to 120 Louisiana black bears in the 1950s. The study found that more than half of the Black Bears now alive, are in the northeastern part of the state in the Tensas River Basin. Davidson says the report also indicates the bears are moving from one region to another. 

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