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Tulane study: Cities whose teams are in the Super Bowl see an increase in flu deaths

A Tulane University study discovers that cities who have teams in the Super Bowl see a spike in flu deaths. Researcher Charles Stoecker, says based on county-level statistics, there was an 18-percent increase in flu deaths among those over the age of 65 in cities whose teams were in the Super Bowl that year. He says big games bring more people together.

"People are going out more, they are going out in public more, they are in more close contact with other people and somehow that's spilling over to the over 65 set," said Stoecker. 
Stoecker says based on his research people in Boston and Seattle need to practice good hygiene and his study also reveals the effect is worse in years when the flu strain is more virulent like this year's strain. 
"Those are years where it's more dangerous to have your team in the Super Bowl," Stoecker said.
Stoecker says another interesting aspect of his study found the host Super Bowl city does not see an increase in flu cases or deaths. 
"The Super Bowl is usually hosted in these warmer weather cities like New Orleans and it's not as amenable to influenza transmission as some of the other Super Bowl contenders." 
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Three more synthetic marijuana compounds banned

After more Louisianians have been hospitalized and even died as a result of synthetic marijuana, Governor Bobby Jindal has announced the ban of multiple new synthetic marijuana compounds.  The new banned compounds are called "PX 1", PX 2", and "MDMB-CHMICA".

Dr. Mark Ryan, Director of the Louisiana Poison Control Center, says the state is staying pro-active in fight against synthetic marijuana.
"We identify a new substance.  We know that it's here.   We wait to see if it's going to cause problems, and these substances have.  And as soon as we note that those problems are occurring, we move to regulate those substances."

Ryan feels Louisiana is one of the most pro-active states in the nation in quickly regulating these substances once they are identified.  He says there have been several deaths in the state in the last few months related to synthetic marijuana, sold under names like "Blue Diamond" and "Mojo".

"And we have had at least one death related to these substances, in particular."

Ryan says at least one death can be attributed to these new banned substances.  He says not only are people who use synthetic marijuana are being harmed, but the people around them are harmed as well.  He says, if you are concerned that a product contains an illegal substance, just look for the words "Not For Human Consumption" on the back of the package.

"That is almost a super tip off way to look at it and say 'This has an illegal drug in it.'"
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Louisiana ranks 3rd for teacher-student inappropriate relationships

A new study ranks Louisiana third nationally on a per-capita basis for inapproprate teacher-student relationships. Terry Abbott, a former chief of staff at the US Department of Ed and now chair of Drive West Communications, says he found 23 reported cases in 2014 and in many of those situations, social media was used to advance a teacher-student relationship to an inappropriate level.

"39% of the cases involved teachers reaching out on social media to students and having private electronic communications, sometimes in the middle of the night," Abbot said. 
Abbott says there's also a higher percentage of inappropriate relationships involving female teachers than the national average. 
"It's hard to say what all drives it," Abbott said.
And Abbott says it's disturbing there's already been six reported cases in 2015 in Louisiana. He says school district leaders need to get serious about this problem and so do lawmakers, who can pass legislation to create stronger penalties for offenders.
"We have too many teachers who commit sexual assaults of children and then wind up without any jail time," Abbott said.  
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Saturday's Powerball prize up to $298 million

The Louisiana Lottery says we've now hit the biggest Powerball jackpot of 2015 with tomorrow's drawing worth a whopping $298 million dollars. Spokeswoman Kimberly Chopin says the current jackpot has been running since the end of November. She says the last big jackpot winner in Louisiana was from a May 2013 drawing so we're due.

"We've been about a year now without a big Powerball winner," said Chopin. "But we have have 15 since we joined the Powerball game."

Chopin says the current jackpot has a cash value of about $198.4 million dollars. She says since the match 5 prize has increased to a million dollars we've had plenty of those winners in Louisiana.

"In fact one just claimed a million dollar prize just this month," said Chopin. "Pete" Blakeney bought his ticket in Pearl River."

Chopin says when the jackpot gets high like this they find a lot of people play who don't normally buy tickets -- or even for the first time.

"They don't realize, even if you don't match all 6 numbers you can win a lot of different prizes on Powerball," said Chopin. "So check your tickets right after the drawing and remember it only takes one to win."

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Duke's chance for another Louisiana office? Highly unlikely.

So how likely would it be that former KKK leader and Louisiana lawmaker David Duke would be elected again here? Not very likely according to political analyst Bernie Pinsonat. Duke challenged Congressman Steve Scalise to step down for apologizing about speaking to a white supremacist group in 2002. Pinsonat says Duke is only milking this for attention.

"David Duke is not going to get elected to Congress and he certainly won't beat Steve Scalise," said Pinsonat. "I think since he's gotten a little national coverage he's going to take advantage of it for as long as possible."

Duke took it a step further and said that he would consider challenging the House Majority Whip in the next election for the 1st District Seat. 
Pinsonat says Duke is just trying to get publicity and he will probably never get re-elected in Louisiana if he chooses to run.

Duke made the comments on Louisiana Radio Network's Jim Engster Show.

Pinsonat says if anything, this would allow Scalise to set the record straight that he doesn't agree with Duke.

"It may be an opportunity for Scalise, if he does run again, to show how much disdain and dislike he has for David Duke and what he stands for."
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Calhoun fire ruled a murder suicide

The State Fire Marshal's Office has determined that yesterday's fire in Calhoun, where two bodies were recovered, was a murder suicide.  Fire Marshal Butch Browning says they believe the situation began with a domestic dispute between 52-year-old Larry Lisotta and his wife, 57-year-old Diane Lisotta.

"The evidence that we have right now, it appears the male in that home had actually shot the female and set the home on fire and then committed suicide himself." 

Browning says hey have determined that Larry Lisotta shot his wife in the head and then turned the gun on himself.  He says this appears to be an isolated incident and do not believe anyone else was involved.

"It started out as a domestic dispute and it ended in these two tragic deaths."

He says the investigation is ongoing.
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Benson family legal dispute could drag on

The legal drama between the Benson family over ownership of the Saints and Pelicans could drag on for a year or more.  The scene will play out in courtrooms in New Orleans and San Antonio.  

Legal analyst Tim Meche says an Orleans Civil District Court Judge could rule whether or not Tom Benson is physically and mentally fit to handle his business affairs by spring.
"He could require that Mr. Benson be monitored.  He could require that any transactions he does be approved by a court or a third party and that's the most likely result."

Meche says the real litigation will take place in San Antonio involving whether or not Tom Benson can transfer the teams out of the family trust.  He says, thus far, Benson has been unsuccessful in his attempts to do so.

"That will ultimately play out in a San Antonio court room and be decided by a judge who has no ties to New Orleans or the Saints or the Pelicans."

He says that case will involve a lot of litigation and possibly courts of appeal.  There is always a chance that the two sides could negotiate a settlement which would bring this to a quicker solution.  Meche feels, at this point in the game, both sides are engaging in a public relations war.

"And every filing is catered to play out in the court of public opinion.  And they're starting to air their dirty laundry and I think that is only going to get worse." 
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More troopers will be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras

State Police announce that 150 additional troopers will be deployed to New Orleans for this year's Mardi Gras season.  Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson says the troopers will be working in the city through Fat Tuesday.  

Edmonson says that number is up from past years.
"And we're going to be able to keep all the troopers in one specific area in the French Quarter.  So, when they finish working, they're going to spend the night so we'll have them fresh and get as much work out of them as we need to."

He says the detail will include a visible uniform security presence in the French Quarter and Central Business District as well as plain clothes officers.  Edmonson says, looking forward, there will be an increased number of troopers in the city for events like French Quarter Fest, Jazzfest, and numerous conventions.

"We're going to be in smaller quantities, different numbers, depending on what's needed.  We'll bring in troopers for all of those different events.  So we're looking at things that will put us in the city on a regular basis through May."

Edmonson says an increased number of troopers will be working in the Big Easy through the end of May.  He says it's extremely important to have a contingency of law enforcement in areas where you will have a large amount of people.

"Look, for the state of Louisiana to be successful from an economic standpoint and tourist standpoint, it starts in New Orleans.  New Orleans is the number one destination in the country and number five destination in the world." 
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Swift confident Sasol project will move ahead

Sasol's announcement of a delay in their final decision to invest in a proposed gas-to-liquids plant in southwest Louisiana has raised some concern in the business community.   But George Swift, President of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, says construction has already begun on Sasol's $8 billion ethane cracker and that quells his concern.

"So with this huge project already underway, we're confident that they will come in with the gas-to-liquids at a later date."

The South African energy company cites falling oil prices as the reason for their announced delay.  Swift says the decline in the price of oil has given his organization a reason to be concerned, but projects like this are focused on long-range goals.

"These projects are done on a 30 to 40 year basis, so they're looking long term for their investment.  So we are confident it will go ahead."

Swift says his confidence that the project will go ahead is boosted by the infrastructure work that Sasol is doing around the site of the proposed plant.  He says even though Sasol's decision to delay is disappointing, it could have a silver lining.

"The delay does give Louisiana residents more time to get training and it could help us in filling the workforce needs." 
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Governor Jindal featured in article on The Onion

The Onion, a satirical news website, recently wrote an article skewering Governor Bobby Jindal that's getting national attention.  The fictitious article claimed that Jindal's presidential campaign would last about two months before he pulled out of the race.  

ULM Political Science Professor Joshua Stockley says a couple of things may have put Jindal in the cross hairs of The Onion.
"I think he has drawn the ire of The Onion for his comments about 'no-go zones' and probably, in part, his prayer rally held on the campus of Louisiana State University."

The tongue-in-cheek article claimed that Jindal isn't sure he would want to put his family through the ordeal of a two-month presidential campaign.  Stockley says The Onion is really taking two shots at Jindal.  He says the first jab focuses on Jindal's potential presidential campaign.

"Basically, what The Onion is indicating, is that Governor Jindal's presidential launch, if you will, or attempt to launch his presidential campaign is not going smoothly, if at all."

Stockley says The Onion writing an article about Jindal is not flattering and not the kind of national attention that the governor would prefer at this time.  He says the underlying joke in the article is one that Louisianians will surely understand.

"He may officially have a two month presidential campaign, but, I think, we all understand that he's been running for president for five or six years, now." 

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David Duke says he wants to run against Steve Scalise on The Jim Engster Show

Michelle Southern reporting.
Former KKK leader and State Representative David Duke says Congressman Steve Scalise is a sellout and he may consider running against him. In a rare interview on Louisiana Radio Network's Jim Engster show, Duke says the Congressman should step down for apologizing about speaking to a white supremacists group in 2002.

"He should resign because the difference between Steve Scalise and I is that we ran under the same principals of the Republican Party," said Duke. "But he sold out."

Scalise recently came under fire when the story broke that he was a guest speaker at an event hosted by Duke. The Congressman said it never should have happened and Duke says that is an insult to every member of Scalise's 1st district which is why he's seriously considering running against him.

"He's insulting every one of the members who actually voted for him, because he's suggesting that they're racist for supporting my views," Duke said.

Duke, who currently lives in Mandeville, says he's not registered to vote but he would just to run for office against Scalise. He says by apologizing, Scalise is suggesting that everyone who voted for him is racist.

"I call on him to step down because he's betrayed his people."
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Sasol announces delay in 14 billion dollar plant in Lake Charles area

Michelle Southern reporting.
Sasol announces its delaying a decision on whether or not to make a final investment into a proposed gas-to-liquids plant in southwest Louisiana. The South African energy company says they are not moving forward with the 14 billion dollar project due to tumbling oil prices.

LSU Center for Energy Studies Executive Director David Dismukes says Sasol's decision is not a surprise, considering the scope of the project.

"It would be very dependent upon a good differential between natural gas and crude oil -- so when oil tumbles, it's not unexpected to see a slow down on industry spending," said Dismukes.

Sasol has already approved an $8.1 billion ethane cracker in Westlake, but right now the company says they are working to conserve as much money as possible in the wake of falling oil prices.

There are several other announced industry sites out there as well in Louisiana and Dismukes says the farther it's away from completion, the more likely a delay will take place.

"Those might be more risky than the ones that are coming in line or under construction right now," said Dismukes. "Most of those are probably already locked in."

If Sasol green lights this GTL plant, it would be the most expensive industrial project in Louisiana history, totaling $22 billion when combined with the cracker facility. 

Dismukes says this decision is reflective of the entire energy industry, which is re-evaluating its thinking on certain projects. 

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Slidell man wakes up to find sleeping burglar on his sofa

Slidell Police say a homeowner woke up this morning to find something quite unusual in his home.  Detective Daniel Seuzeneau says the homeowner immediately called police and responding officers found 31-year-old Sharrod McCullum sound asleep on the victim's sofa.

"Obviously this was a shock to both the homeowner and the officers.  They woke up Mr. McCullum and he appeared to be intoxicated and said he didn't realize where he was at."

McCullum was arrested without incident.  Seuzeneau says authorities discovered that McCullum forced entry through the rear door of the residence.

"He was in possession of a screwdriver and a GPS unit which is suspected to be stolen from a vehicle somewhere else within the neighborhood."

McCullum faces one count of simple burglary and one count of criminal damage.  Seuzeneau says other charges could be filed in the near future.  He admits it's funny, but scary, at the same time, to wake up and find a stranger sleeping in your house.

"We're just very grateful that nothing else happened and we're very happy that the officers were able to get there quickly and take the suspect into custody without any further incident."

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Scalise to meet with civil rights leaders

Republican Congressman Steve Scalise has agreed to a meeting with two civil rights leaders in the aftermath of reports that Scalise spoke to a group of white supremacists in 2002.  The pair want to ask Scalise to help advance civil and human rights issues, like the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.  

Political analyst Clancy Dubos thinks this is a good move for the Congressman.
"And to the extent that anybody out there has doubts about him, this is an affirmative step, a proactive step, that he can take to put some action behind his words that he uttered in the wake of the news about him meeting with EURO."

The Congressman has acknowledged it was a mistake to speak to the group and has apologized.  Dubos feels Scalise has been sincere in his remarks since the news came out.

"His friendships in the Black Caucus, particularly with Congressman Richmond, is an old friendship, it's a very close friendship, and I think this is a step he can take to show that he meant what he said when he's against bigotry in all forms."

The House Majority Whip will meet with former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League, and Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, next month.  Dubos says Scalise should use this meeting as a real chance to communicate.

"I think it's important just that he sits and talks with them and maybe listens to them.   Any kind of dialog among people who disagree in Congress is a good thing."
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Benson responds to lawsuit claiming he's mentally incomptent

Tom Benson has fired back at his daughter and two grandchildren who are attempting to get a judge to declare the Saints and Pelicans owners is not competent to make sound business decisions.

In a court filing, Benson says for years he attempted to groom Renee Benson and his two grandchildren to take over the professional franchises, but they never rose to the task. He adds the decision for his wife to take control of the teams following his death was a deliberate and reasoned decision.
Renee Benson, along with Ryan Leblanc and Rita Benson Leblanc filed a lawsuit last week, challenging a succession plan that would put Gayle Benson in control of the Saints and Pelicans after Tom Benson's death. They claim Mr. Benson's mental state has been weakened and portrayed Gayle Benson as a gold digger.  
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Split playoffs are up for discussion at LHSAA annual convention

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association's annual convention begins today and the main agenda item is the current split of the football playoffs. There is a proposal to expand the postseason split of public and private schools to other sports.
But new LHSAA executive director, Eddie Bonine, is asking schools to give him a year to study the issue and come up with a proposal that a bulk of the schools can feel comfortable with. 
"Put together something that we can get all of the stakeholders together and put together some proposals that I'm hopeful will unify the state again," Bonine said.
Bonine, who was hired in December, has spent the last couple of weeks talking with schools and getting their input. He believes since he's new on the job, the best course of action is to stay with the split football playoffs for another year, so they can work on a better solution. 
"There's a good chance that the majority of the schools really want to give the LHSAA and myself an opportunity to get this thing right."
The LHSAA voted in 2013 to split the football playoffs between public and private schools, because of concerns that private schools had certain advantages over public schools. Bonine says he wants more time to dive into the issues that created the split and work with schools on a plan that will make it more equitable for teams to win a championship 
"I don't want to push something through that we are going to have to come back and visit and do another trial on."  
A vote on proposals for next year's high school football playoff format will take place on Friday.  
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Study: More women becoming involved with guns

Studies show more and more women are buying guns and becoming more familiar with how to use them. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, 74 percent of gun shops saw growth in female customers in 2013. Barret Kendrick, a firearms trainer in Covington, says they have seen a major increase in the number of women coming into the gun market.

"More of them, as mothers and parents, are worried about the safety of their young ones," said Kendrick. "More women want to be able to defend themselves and their children."

Kendrick says women want to be able to protect themselves and their children and not feel like they have to rely on a man to protect them. He says three years ago he'd see just one or two females in a concealed carry training course.

"With the launch of our new class last year, I typically see about 80-100% female attendance during our introductions defensive handguns course," said Kendrick.

Kendrick says he's found many of his female students go from being scared of weapons to really enjoying a training course and having fun. He believes the trend of women becoming involved with guns will keeping getting bigger.

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Boudin King Cake goes viral

Michelle Southern reporting.
What is the first thing you think of when you hear "Boudin King Cake?" Well it's out there. The brains behind the now crazy viral concept is Acadiana food critic Bob Carriker who is a UL-Lafayette history professor. He says he reviews King Cakes and Boudin from all over the nation and decided to combine the two and share the idea on his Facebook Page.

"I figured if people were interested I could make a few for friends and family and people in the immediate area," said Carriker. "But it went far beyond that and the interest literally started coming in in minutes."

Carriker says the King Cake uses a bread that is savory, not sweet, stuffed with boudin, topped with Steen's cane syrup then sprinkled with cracklin. 

He says his idea immediately went viral so he ran down to a local baker, Billy Guilbeaux who co-owns Twins Burgers and Sweets with his twin Denny.

"We talked about how we could go ahead and start getting these into peoples hands because the reaction was so dramatic," said Carriker.

Guilbeaux says they began cooking and selling the Boudin King Cake which each come with its own bottle of Steen's, and within 2 hours they had used 120 containers of the cane syrup and had to run to Abbeville to get 700 more.

Carriker says he's gotten messages from Alaska, New York, Washington and California all with people who want one.

"People have been emailing me and telling me I'm a great American for this," said Carriker. "Some people say it makes them more proud to be a Louisianian and they have to get it into their stomach as soon as possible."


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The number of employed in Louisiana continues to go up and so does the unemployment rate

Labor numbers for December show it was another record breaking month for Louisiana employment. Louisiana Workforce Commission director Curt Eysink, says total nonfarm employment grew to 1,992,200, as private employers added 34,000 jobs over the year. He says professional businesses services is one of their strongest sectors for job growth.

"These are people who are well educated, they earn really good salaries and their work typically is important in producing or generating projects that employ other people," Eysink said.
Louisiana's unemployment rate also continues to go up, even though the number of people who are employed is also increasing. Eysink says the higher unemployment rate is not because of layoffs, but because more people are looking for jobs. 
"People are entering our labor force in record numbers and there's a break there, between the time they start looking for work and when they find work," Eysink said. 
The statewide unemployment rate for December was 6.7 percent, up 1.3 percent from the year before. 
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Is the price of gas bottoming out?

According to the American Automobile Association, the statewide average price for a gallon of regular gasoline is at $1.87 for the second day in a row.  So has the price bottomed out?  

AAA fuel analyst Don Redman says that is possible as the price of crude oil has stabilized between $45 and $48 a barrel.
"We're looking at the wholesale gasoline kind of settled between the $1.31 - $1.33 range.  So it does look like, indeed, that we have reached some kind of plateau."

But he says there is a chance that we could still see prices slip as we head into February.

"But, certainly, by mid to late February, I think we'll start seeing some of those prices moving upward as we start heading into spring."

Redman says the drop in fuel costs is astounding, especially when you compare prices to this time last year.

"It's almost a dollar a gallon difference.  It's pretty significant change in how the prices have fallen from just over a year ago." 

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