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220 retired research chimps at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia research center will move to a new sanctuary in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Project Chimps is a non-profit organization and has negotiated with the university to move the chimps over the next several years.

President Sarah Baeckler Davis says starting in June, chimps will start moving to the 236-acre sanctuary.

“It’ll take several years for them to make their way to us and it’ll be about 10 per month until we have them all moved here.”

Baeckler Davis says the NIRC decided to retire the chimps from research in 2015 before they were reclassified under the Endangered Species Act. She says the Georgia sanctuary will be the perfect environment to house the retired chimpanzees. 


“We have a 236 acre property here in north Georgia. Beautiful rolling hills and pine trees and a full veterinary clinic and a kitchen.”

Baeckler Davis says this is the first time a non-federal program has released an entire population of research chimpanzees.

“It’s sort of a shifting of priorities from a research population to sort of a retirement facility.”

 
 
 

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A bill that expands the number of diseases for which medical marijuana can be prescribed was narrowly approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee today. St. Martin Parish Senator Fred Mills is the author of the legislation and says he’s encountered many individuals who say medical cannabis can help their child cope with numerous diseases.

“I’m giving medical marijuana oil to my child that has turrets syndrome. He’s doing good, but I’m tired of breaking the law. I’m growing marijuana in my back yard,” Mills said.

When the legislature approved the legal dispensing of medical marijuana last year, they only allowed three different diseases to receive the medication. Katie Corkern says her son, who has uncontrollable seizures, could benefit from medical marijuana, and she doesn’t understand why lawmakers would oppose a bill that could help her child.

“Connor was seizing uncontrollably as legislators spoke against this bill simply because it’s about marijuana, and that is all they needed to know. They didn’t care that my child, feet away from them, was seizing,” Corkern said.

Dr. Will Hall with the Louisiana Baptist Office of Public Policy spoke out against the bill, because it will result in an increase in illegal drug use. 

“This bill is not structured to prevent expansion. It’s structured to promote expansion,” Hall said.

Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana DA’s Association, also opposes the measure because he says medical cannabis has not been proven to help with these illnesses. He says this bill is a gateway to total legalization.

“I do believe that you will see this issue come up again and again and again. Until sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be hearing a bill on the legalization of marijuana,” Adams said.

The bill passed on an 8-6 vote and moves to the full House for more debate.Mills says Louisiana is about two years away from getting medical marijuana to patients.

 
 
 

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Buying, selling, transporting, or donating fetal tissue from an abortion could earn someone a bed behind bars for at least 10 years, under a proposal by Bossier City Senator Ryan Gatti. The bill has been approved by the Senate, as well as a House committee. Gatti says people should not benefit in any way from induced abortions.

“We just need to go ahead and speak for the people and make this a crime because children are our destiny. They’re our hope. They’re our future. They’re not merchandise that needs to be sold,” Gatti said.

Gatti says this bill does not apply to donating fetal tissue for stem cell research or umbilical cord blood. He says he put every word that could possibly be used for this act, to make sure that everyone involved can be prosecuted.

“Even the FedEx guy if he’s picking up a box. I want to make it clear. I don’t want to hide anything in this bill. The transportation of these organs is a violation of this criminal law,” Gatti said.

The measure passed the House Health and Welfare committee without opposition and now heads to the full House.

The bill is the result of recent videos which purportedly showed Planned Parenthood representatives talking about the sale of aborted fetal parts.  
 
 
 
 

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A bill to allow victims of domestic violence who have been issued a protective order to carry a concealed handgun with an expedited and temporary permit passed out of the House Criminal Justice committee.

Author of the legislation, Denham Springs Rep. Valerie Hodges, says according to the FBI, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. She says she is committed to protecting victims of domestic violence. 

“13-hundred women are murdered every year in the United States. That’s more women murdered by their former spouse or boyfriend than that died in the World Trade Center.”

Hodges says this is a very real problem and right now it takes six to eight weeks to obtain a permit. Wade Duty with the Louisiana Shooting Association says it’s very hard to get into a class and a woman could be killed waiting to take a training course.


“At the end of the day, it is the woman and it is her attacker and a piece of paper simply does not weigh in the balance in that equation, I would ask you to support this bill.

The measure now heads to the full House. The NRA supports expediting the process for obtaining concealed carry permit. Hodges says daughters, sisters, and mothers are being murdered at the hands of former loved ones and wants to give them a chance.

“To give them something that could equalize their ability to survive when they are attacked, this won’t stop the attack.”

 
 
 

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Another proposal aimed at public schools by New Orleans Representative Walt Leger would require students to have wellness exams before entering kindergarten and sixth grade. Leger says this just ensures that any health issue that a student may have can be caught early.

“Clearly we want kids to show up ready to learn, making sure that they’ve been evaluated for vision, hearing issues, developmental disabilities, and otherwise,” Leger said.

But Houma Representative Beryl Amedee says this could cost the state more money, because kids who use government healthcare would be required to get medically unnecessary exams at the state’s expense.

“This would be driving a lot of students who are not medically needy of these appointments because they’re perfectly healthy to get these evaluations when they’re really not necessary,” Amedee said.

Leger says parents would be able to opt out of getting the exams, like they can with vaccines. He says these exams would benefit all students who get them, even if they are healthy.

“Even heathy students benefit from having a health evaluation. We don’t know that they’re healthy until they’ve been evaluated,” Leger said.

The measure passed on a 59-37 vote and moves to the Senate.

 
 
 

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Students in public schools could start getting lessons in personal finance management, if a bill by Minden Representative Gene Reynolds gains more approval in the legislature. The measure has been approved in the House Education Committee with no objection. Reynolds says this proposal would not create a financial literacy course. He says teachers could add finance lessons to the regular curriculum.

“It doesn’t have to be a course you would get credit for or anything. It could be incorporated within the year, and that’s the whole idea,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds says students in every grade can learn something about money. He says even in kindergarten, you learn to count pennies, which he says could be considered financial literacy. He says many schools are already teaching students about finance management.

“A lot of schools have incorporated on their own financial literacy within courses and as special projects,” Reynolds said.

The bill now moves to the House floor.

 
 
 

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Legislation is heading to the governor's desk that curbs the cost of the TOPS scholarship program and it will likely mean recipients will have to pay a portion of their tuition. Lafayette Representative Nancy Landry says the bill locks the TOPS payment rate at next year's tuition level, but it will not automatically go up if tuition at that college rises.
 
"If there is a tuition increase, it won't be automatic, the legislature has to say ok yes, we'll match it, we're okay with that or we can simply say we cannot afford to," Landry said. 
 
The measure passed on a 74-20 vote and heads to the governor's desk, where he is expected to sign it. Amite Representative Robby Carter has concerns about telling TOPS students that their tuition will no longer be fully paid for.
 
"I don't like the idea of broken promises we made to those freshman and sophomores who started their university careers and now we may not be fulfilling a contract we made with them when they started," Carter said.  
 
The taxpayer funded scholarship program costs the state nearly 300-million dollars and Landry says the legislature must do something to rein in its costs.
 
"We have to put some protection in to protect the program for our children to use in the future," Landry said-  
 
 

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The Senate has approved legislation that would send 17-year-old non-violent offenders through the juvenile court system, instead of adult court. The measure was approved on a 33-4 vote. New Orleans Senator JP Morrell says 17-year-olds who are convicted of crimes would be better off if they didn’t go to adult jail.

“I challenge that if anyone of you sent your child to an adult facility for several years, they would come out as a hardened criminal,” Morrell said.

Morrell says violent offenders will still be able to be charged as adults, but under the current law, even those who commit minor offenses are required to be charged as adults.

“Just like you wouldn’t want someone locking up your child, we should give every 18-year-old the opportunity to prove us right, and if they don’t, there is a bed waiting for them at an adult facility,” Morrell said.

Morrell says 17-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, sign a contract, or join the military. He says these offenders are not adults, and they don’t belong in the adult court system.

“We’re talking about kids, and I think that occasionally we digress from that. A 17-year-old is a child,” Morrell said.

The bill, which is supported by Governor Edwards, heads to the House for more discussion.

 
 
 

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May is Air Quality Awareness month, and the Department of Environmental Quality says Louisiana’s air quality is better than it’s been since the start of the Industrial Revolution. DEQ senior scientist Vivian Aucoin says that’s because they have improved the quality of the air in parts of the state where it was lacking.

“The state has worked very hard to bring all of the areas into compliance with the national ambient air quality standards,” Aucoin said.

Aucoin says everybody is doing their part to reduce pollution or unhealthy air, even major industrial facilities. She says environmental agencies have done well to enforce higher air quality standards.

“Most of what you see coming out of smokestacks at facilities is steam because we put on control measures. The EPA and the Department of Energy have done a lot to make our energy sources cleaner,” Aucoin said.

But Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Anne Rolfes, doesn’t think Louisiana’s air is any cleaner. She says the state does a poor job of monitoring the air in areas where it’s the worst.

“The Department of Environmental quality wouldn’t really know the air quality is like because simply do not monitor the air closely enough,” Rolfes said.

Rolfes says in neighborhoods near oil refineries and other plants, the air just stinks, literally. She says her organization works with the EPA to get air quality readings in those areas, and their information shows the air is not any cleaner.

“Those readings show, for example, the chemical hydrogen sulfide, which is a neurotoxin, at levels that meet or exceed some of the health screening levels,” Rolfes said.

 
 
 

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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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