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Big change in weather coming

Get ready for a big change in the weather. State climatologist Barry Keim says high temperatures today will be in the 70s and tomorrow they'll be back in the 30s and 40s as a result of a strong cold front.
"So expect big changes in the temperature today, once that front begins bearing down on your location," Keim said.

This front has the potential to produce another round of winter precipitation. Keim says the northern half of the state could see see freezing rain during the overnight hours. 
"Which will include the Alexandria area, and all points north of Alexandria in Louisiana, including Shreveport and Monroe." 
Eleven parishes are under a winter storm warning and it covers Shreveport, Monroe, Farmerville, Oak Grove and Ruston. The National Weather Service says there's a potential of up to a quarter of an inch of freezing rain and sleet accumulations during the early morning hours on Thursday in these areas.  

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Kennedy sees pros and cons in proposed budget

State Treasurer John Kennedy sees pros and cons to Governor Bobby Jindal's budget proposal.  The governor has proposed scaling back certain tax credits and cut spending in other areas to address a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall.  

Kennedy says some of the proposed reductions in spending make sense, especially in the area of consulting contracts.
"He's going to get rid of a call center consultant, I think, for about $3.3 million.  He's going to reduce the number of consultants at the Department of Education, $6.8 million."

Kennedy says the proposed budget looks to reduce the 60-percent of the deficit by repealing tax credits and 40-percent by reducing spending.  However, Kennedy does question the proposal of closing all health clinics in New Orleans, which will effect about 57,000 people.

"That's going to drive people to the emergency room and it will cost four to five times more to threat them in an emergency room than in the private clinic.  So, while in the short term, there may be a reduction, in the long term it could cost us more money."

Kennedy spoke about the budget on Louisiana Radio Network's Jim Engster show.  He says the budget's biggest revenue increase comes with the repeal of the inventory tax credit, which would add about $525 million dollars to the state's coffers.  Kennedy says he's not sure this was chosen wisely.

"Increasing this inventory tax is going to really effect a lot of businesses, about about a thousand businesses in Louisiana.  And many of them are going to be small businesses." 

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LABI plans to fight repeal of the inventory tax credit

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry plans to fight Governor Bobby Jindal's proposal to repeal the inventory tax credit.  Such a move would save the state an estimated $380 million which could be used for health care and higher education.  

But LABI Vice President, Jim Patterson, says a repeal of this tax credit would be devastating to business across the state.
"And, to the degree that this will now cease, as the governor declares these amounts non-refundable, the impact will be very adverse to our economy."

Patterson says the vast majority of states do not have inventory taxes, so if the refund went away, jobs could leave as well.

"If, in fact, this occurs, businesses make the logical decision to shift their inventories to, let's say, states who do not have such a tax."

Patterson says if those inventories are moved, it would mean countless warehouse jobs across the state would be lost.  He says Louisiana is one of only 13 states that have an inventory tax on the books.  Patterson says if the inventory tax credit is repealed, then business will have to make up that money somewhere.

"Business will, necessarily to the degree that they can, businesses will pass this along to consumers." 

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Shreveport Police looking for second suspect after fatal home invasion attempt

The Shreveport Police Department says they are looking for a suspect following an overnight fatal home invasion. Corporal Marcus Hines says officers were called to the scene around 1am.

"When officers arrived on scene there was a suspect fatally shot inside the residence," said Hines. "Evidence at the scene suggest the home owner shot the man."

Minor children inside the home at the time of the shooting were not injured and authorities with child welfare were notified. Hines says they believe the two men entered the home wearing masks and one of them was armed with a semi-automatic rifle

"A second suspect did flee the scene," said Hines. "We don't know if he was shot by the homeowner or not but he has not been captured."

He says evidence seized during a search of the residence suggest illegal narcotics may have been a motivating factor in the attempted robbery.

"Right now officers are working that angle to see if that played a role in the shooting," said Hines. "We're pretty confident that had some degree of involvement."
Officers have arrested two people living inside the home, because of illegal drugs inside the home.

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Elderly woman perishes in Opelousas fire

Michelle Southern reporting.
The State Fire Marshal's Office says they are working an investigation into a fire which claimed the life of a 73-year-old woman in Opelousas. Fire Marshal Butch Browning says firefighters responded to a wood frame dwelling around 4am which they found fully engulfed in flames.

He says the 73 year old victim, Mary Ann Sam, was also located.

"She perished in the fire before the firefighters arrived," said Browning. "We've been going through the respectful process of removing the body from the home."

They are still working to determine the cause of the blaze. 

Browning says they know the woman was living alone in the home and the fire was discovered by someone who was driving by.

"It kinda-of leads us to believe that there were not working smoke alarms in the home," said Browning.

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State tax returns being issued

The state Department of Revenue announces that state tax refunds are now being issued.  The department had said that it would not issue refunds until March 2nd, but actually began doing so last Friday.  

Spokeswoman Kizzy Payton says the delay was due to the increase of the filing of fraudulent tax returns across the nation.
"The Department of Revenue decided to implement additional security measures, this year, to ensure we could detect any suspicious activity surrounding taxpayer's accounts."

Payton says the department strives to make sure they are not handing out tax refunds to people who do not deserve them.

"In the past two years alone, LDR has prevented over $11 million in fraudulent tax returns from going out the door through our anti-fraud initiative."

Payton says some may have already received their refund, depending on the method of payment they chose.  She says, thus far, over 763,000 tax returns have been filed and about 244,000 have been processed.  But Payton says that's just the beginning.

"On average, LDR processes 1.9 million electronic refunds each year."

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New study suggests longer sleep could put you at higher risk for stroke

Michelle Southern reporting.
A new study suggests people who sleep longer face a greater risk of having a stroke. Researchers followed patients for 10 years and found that someone 63 or older who sleeps more than eight hours a day is 46 percent likelier to suffer a stroke in the next decade than adults who sleep for 6-8 hours.

"We've actually characterized pretty well the effect of sleep deprivation," says Dr. Caroline Barton, an assistant professor of neurology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. "But we've not really characterized very well what the effect of too much sleep is on people."

Barton says you can't diagnose a stroke before it happens but studies like this help give doctors clues as to what might be causing them. She says stability of sleep as a trait is very important.

"Because they noticed that the people who tended to have strokes because they slept longer, 10 years prior when they were first studied slept normally," said Barton.

The findings were published in the journal Neurology. Barton says the study also noted that if someone had a significant change in their sleeping habits it was a bad sign.

"They said long sleep could be a cause, consequence or an early marker of ill health that could eventually result in stroke," said Barton.


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Meeting tonight to discuss downsizing at Fort Polk

As the military, once again, looks to reduce the number of troops at the Fort Polk Army base, the Army is holding a meeting tonight to listen to concerns about the potential effects a troop reduction could have on the area.  Fort Polk Progress Chairman, Michael Reese, says the listening session is the final event in their evaluation process.  

He says they will host three events in Leesville, Lake Charles, and Alexandria.
"That will be simultaneous events that will be simulcast back to the listening session in Leesville where the evaluation team will be."

Reese says these events will show the Army the breadth of support Fort Polk enjoys and will be something unique they won't see at other installations.  The military is considering troop reductions at 30 bases nationwide.  He says Fort Polk faced a reduction last year and the base only lost around 250 troops.

"That was a substantial savings at Fort Polk, keeping the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain there, which really is the level of stationing needed at Fort Polk in order for these off base communities to provide any of the services they currently provide."

Reese says attendance at these events is very key and critical to there mission of avoiding massive troop reductions at Fort Polk.  He says if you can attend one of the three events, your presence could speak volumes to the Army.

"Numbers matter.  Driving that point to the military that our communities understand what's at stake, understand what's going on, understand the economic impact, is something that can't be done in reports" 

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Higher education looking for funding solutions

Higher Education Commissioner Joe Rallo says Governor Jindal's proposed budget is about 200-million dollars short of what's needed to fully fund the state's public college and universities. Rallo says if the funding situation doesn't change, campus leaders will have to make some tough decisions.

"Probably come the latter part of this month, certainly by the beginning of April, they will start cancelling classes, a significant numbers of classes, they will be looking at not hiring faculty members," Rallo said. 
The state's budget problems have raised concerns that one possible solution is to close college campuses. But Rallo says the state will not see the kind of savings some might expect by shutting down a school.
"Take for example if you have a residence hall on your campus, how is that residence hall paid for, it's paid for because the students live there and pay rent," Rallo said. "So if you close the institution, the debt doesn't go away."
He says higher education leaders are looking at various options to improve their funding situation, one idea that's been thrown on the white board is to privatize some public universities. 
"It's incumbent upon us to look at a lot of different things. It doesn't mean it's even possible."

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Man arrested after throwing daughter to the ground while fleeing police

Slidell Police has arrested a Baton Rouge man after he threw his young daughter to the ground while fleeing officers during a shoplifting attempt.  Detective Daniel Seuzeneau says officers responded to a call that 24-year-old Lamar Causey was attempting to steal cologne and perfume from a cosmetics store.

"And when they went to approach him, Causey literally threw his 17-month-old daughter to the ground, causing her to hit her head."

One officer stopped and cared for the child, while the other officer chased Causey down and apprehended him.  Seuzeneau says the incident was truly shocking for everyone involved.

"The officer, who went to the aid of the infant, said that he has never seen somebody do that before and that Causey literally threw his daughter down as if she was a toy doll."

The little girl was transported to a local hospital for her injuries.  She was released to family members and will make a full recovery.  Police recovered 14 bottles of stolen cologne and perfume on Causey valued at almost $1,200.  Seuzeneau says Causey was booked into the Slidell City Jail.

"And he was charged with a slew of charges:  theft of over $1000, cruelty to juveniles, child desertion, resisting an officer by flight, public intimidation, and possession of schedule II narcotics."

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LSU and Chavis battle over $400,000 buyout

LSU and its former defensive coordinator John Chavis are in a legal battle. The two sides filed lawsuits against each other. LSU claims Chavis owes them $400,000 contractual buyout for accepting a job with Texas A&M. 

Chavis filed the first lawsuit in Texas, claiming he took the proper steps when he left LSU to avoid paying a 400-thousand buyout. LSU counter sued, seeking to dismiss Chavis' suit and have the case heard in Baton Rouge. Legal analyst Tim Meche says having the home court advantage is critical in this case. 
"I mean no Baton Rouge judge or jury is going to rule for John Chavis, likewise LSU will be handicapped before a Texas judge or jury," Meche said. 
Meche believes this case will be settled out of court, because it's in the best interest of the LSU and A&M football programs not to have Chavis or Tigers Head Coach Les Miles go through a deposition. 
"They would be subject to answer questions under oath about intricate details of the program and recruiting, and this is information that nobody wants to come out in the public," Meche said. 

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Jindal winds up in 12th in Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll

A straw poll conducted at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference showed Governor Bobby Jindal finishing in 12th place among Republican presidential hopefuls.  Jindal received less than one percent of the ballots in that poll.  

UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says this group has not had a good record in predicting presidential nominees.
"It's really more about who is hot in the very, very conservative community, right now, and apparently Bobby Jindal is not that person."  

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul won the poll, followed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.  Cross doesn't think the results of this straw poll will discourage Jindal's presidential aspirations.

"I think he's going to move forward.  I think if he has a bad showing in Iowa and, maybe, one or two other states, he might hang it up."

Cross says Jindal is not necessarily looking to gain the Republican nomination for this presidential election.  He says the governor is looking to get his name out there and becoming one of the players in the Republican Party for future presidential races.

"Looking down the road in 2020, '24, '28, he would still be well within the range of age for presidential candidates."

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Lawmakers look to revamp Louisiana's film tax credit program

Michelle Southern reporting.
As the Louisiana filmed blockbuster "Focus" opened over the weekend, a group of lawmakers is looking at ways we can improve the state's film tax credits. Some have argued that the movie credits here are corrupt and too generous.

New Orleans Senator JP Morrell, who is working on reform legislation, says he fully supports the program but it has major issues.

"When you have taxpayer dollars involved in any program you have to make sure that money is being spent wisely, it's not being exploited and the money being spent delivers the maximum return to those citizens who are paying for it," said Morrell.

Economic impact numbers revealed "Focus" filmed here for 43 days and spent over $8.3 million on local labor at in-state businesses and on location.

Morrell says they don't want to lose the fact that Louisiana has become an industry film leader in the country and earned the name Hollywood South. But he says there are things that must be done to restore taxpayer confidence in the film tax credit program.

"The goal with this right now is to really turn our film tax credit program from the step child to the poster child," says Morrell. "Really kind-of make it almost a template, so-to-speak, of going and reforming all of our tax credit programs."

Morrell says drafts of possible legislation will be discussed on Wednesday in a meeting with the Entertainment Industry Development Advisory Commission.

He says in addition to legislators, that group also is made up of stakeholders in the industry and the goal is a "comprehensive reform" of the film tax credit program.

"To be honest, no one is in love with anything we're doing. There are people who want the credits to go away and there are people who want them left the same," says Morrell. "I've always had the thought that when you're trying to compromise or fix a problem, if everyone walks away sort-of dissatisfied then you're on the right track."

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After week one, 3 contestants on NBC's The Voice have Louisiana connections

Michelle Southern reporting.
NBC's hit show "The Voice" begins its second week of the new season tonight and Louisiana already has ties to three contestants who made it through the blind auditions. 22-year-old Rob Taylor, who was raised in Baton Rouge and now lives in Donaldsonville, gets to move on to the battle rounds which take place next month. 

Taylor says he never thought he would get such an opportunity.

"Being from a small town and with my family," said Taylor. "I never thought anything would come like this, but I'm so glad I never gave up."

The Voice's blind auditions continue tonight at 7. Taylor says when he graduated high school he was offered a partial scholarship to Boston's Berklee College of Music, but he chose to stay home to care for his mother who was sick.

He says his biggest musical influence is his grandmother.

"She was a choir director and really big into church music," said Taylor. "She started me with everything."

Also vying to win a recording contract this season is Tonya Boyd-Cannon who's from Jackson, Mississippi but currently lives in Chalmette. And Meghan Linsey who's from The Big Easy but currently lives in Nashville. 

Taylor says one of the things that influences him the most musically from Louisiana is that styles here are so eclectic.

"There's a little bit of something for everyone and that's the vibe I wanna put off on the show," said Taylor.

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Quarterman's triple double leads LSU to 3rd straight victory

LSU continued its push to get in the NCAA Tournament as the Tigers defeated Ole Miss 73-63 on Saturday afternoon to improve to 10-6 in the SEC, 21-8 overall.
Tim Quarterman registered the first triple-double in LSU history since Shaquille O" Neal did in 1992. Quarterman had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Jarell Martin also had 18 points and added 12 rebounds. Keith Hornsby added 16 points and added four 3-pointers.  
LSU also played some outstanding defense, as they held to Rebels 38% shooting. One of the top scorers in the SEC, Stefan Moody of Ole Miss was just 3-of-16 from the field.
The Tigers will close out the home portion of their schedule when they host Tennessee on Wednesday.  

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Lawmakers react to Jindal's budget proposal

The Jindal administration has said they are willing to scale back 526-million dollars in tax credits for businesses, but Chairman of the republican house delegation, state Representative Lance Harris of Alexandria is disappointed the governor didn’t suggest reeling back some of the film tax credits.
"In the movie tax credit we pay 30% of there expenses to come make up a movie in Louisiana, 30% and then we offer that as a tax credit to someone else," Harris said. 
As a way to help reduce cuts to higher education, The Jindal administration proposes higher fees to attend public college, but provide a tax credit to offset those costs, which would be paid for by raising the cigarette tax. But Harris doesn’t like the idea of a cigarette tax. 
"I do not support any tax that's drilled down to the individual, because I think individuals pay enough taxes as it is now."
The governor has highlighted 12 tax credits that could become non-refundable which would give the state more money to spend. But the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Amite representative John Bel Edwards, says legislators should look beyond those tax credits as a way to raise revenue.
"I'm talking about the giveaways, the loopholes, then the governor put on the table in order to do a comprehensive job," Edwards said.
Edwards says he’s not a fan of Jindal’s proposal to raise cigarette taxes and have that money pay for a tax credit for those individuals who pay higher fees at colleges. 
"Why do we have to do a fee and a tax credit and that's because Governor Jindal is jumping through hoops in order to satisfy Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform," Edwards said. 
Norquist is the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.  

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Proposed bill would protect against penalties for Common Core opt-outs

In two weeks, students will begin Common Core testing and a state lawmaker has introduced a bill that will prohibit penalties if a student decided to opt out of the testing.  Abbeville Representative Bob Hensgens' bill would protect students, schools, and school systems from non-participation penalties.  

He says there is no law that levies penalties for not taking the tests, but that's not what he's hearing from school districts.
"We're getting school districts telling their parents, 'We're not going to let this child go into honors course next year.' or "We're going to make the test a grade for regular school.'  And that's not what it's intended to do."

Currently students who opt-out of the testing will be given a score of zero, which will be transferred to the performance score of schools and school districts.  Hensgens says the decision for a student to take these tests belong to the parent and not the government.

"If the parents say I don't want my child taking this test, which does nothing for their academic career, then they shouldn't have to.  And they shouldn't be bullied into taking it by saying they won't get into honors classes in the future."

Education Superintendent John White says they will address opt-outs when they see how many students actually opt-out of the exams.  Hensgens says it shouldn't be left up to White to determine if penalties should be levied if someone decides not to take the Common Core tests.

"We're not going to leave it up to one guy to decide maybe later, if he so decides, that it won't hurt or it will hurt.  He's not going to be the guy who's the arbiter of the punishment or not punishment, in my book.  The whole state's going to decide this." 

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Jindal administration proposes solutions to budget problems

The Jindal administration presented a proposed budget today that provides a starting point on how to prevent drastic cuts to health care and higher education, despite a one-point-six billion revenue shortfalll for next fiscal year. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols says they want lawmakers to scale back a dozen refundable tax credits which would save the state 526-million dollars.

"This does not increase the current tax obligation of any Louisiana taxpayer and Louisiana will continue to promote economic growth through tax incentives and exemptions, however we can not pay more than we take in," Nichols said. 
Even with a cap on certain tax credits, the cut in the proposed budget to higher ed is 211-million dollars. Nichols offered solutions to further reduce cuts to higher education and one includes raising the cigarette tax and using those revenues to provide families with a tax credit to help offset the costs for higher fees at public colleges. 
"The cigarette tax itself, if we move to the Southern average could generate about 100-million dollars," Nichols said. 
The potential drop in funding for health care sevices is 235-million dollars according to the proposed budget. Lawmakers who serve on the budget committees seemed to like some of the ideas and Delhi Senator Franics Thompson is glad the cuts to higher ed and health care are not as bad as once feared. 
"I'm please we have temporary fix to the problems that we have," Thompson said. 
Lawmakers will now spend the next several weeks going over the budget and will eventually approve a spending plan in June. 

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Vitter gets endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush

Republican gubernatorial candidate, US Senator David Vitter, is getting the endorsement of an ex-president.  The Vitter campaign sent an e-mail to supporters announcing the endorsement of former President George H.W. Bush.  

ULM Political Science Professor Joshua Stockley says this is significant, especially on top of the endorsement of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.
"You're not only getting significant names within the Republican Party establishment, but you're gaining the support, and potential support of their donor base, and that's hugely critical."

In his endorsement, Bush describes Vitter as an effective, conservative leader and urges people to contribute to his campaign.  Stockley says the backing of Bush and Paul are a big boost to Vitter's quest to become governor.

"Vitter could overcome his opponents, not just with the endorsements, but the tremendous financial advantages that come with having these two individuals on your side."

Vitter is the front runner in this year's governor's race, ahead of Republicans Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, and Democratic state Representative John Bel Edwards.  Stockley says Vitter's opponents will now have to step up their game.

"Unless the other three do something substantial and similar, they will see themselves clamoring for second place behind Vitter." 

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This week's cold temps could hamper this weekend's crawfish supply

This week's wintry weather that hit Louisiana could result in a lower supply of crawfish this weekend.  Mark Shirley, with the LSU AgCenter, says pond water temperatures dropped into the 40's this week, which keeps crawfish from crawling into traps.  

Shirley says if you want some crawfish this weekend, you may want to get them early.
"I think, if you want to eat crawfish this weekend, you can find crawfish at some of the drive-thru boiling places or some of the restraunts.  The supply may not be there."

He says you will be able to find crawfish this weekend, but the supply will be below normal.  Unfortunately, the decrease in production will see a rise in the price of mudbugs.  Shirley says you should see an improvement in the price as temperatures warm up.

"It kind of depends on the size that they're grading the crawfish that they're selling and some other factors, in there.  But we're still in winter mode, so you're going to see higher prices now compared to springtime."

Because of the cold temperatures, you may see some smaller crawfish on your plate, but Shirley says crawfish are good, no matter what size they are.  He says, although the winter weather has slowed the crawfish harvest, it hasn't shut it down completely.

"Crawfish are available now.  They're going to get more available the rest of Lent on through Easter Week.  So don't delay in enjoying some Louisiana crawfish." 

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