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A proposal to control TOPS spending has the support of higher education leaders

Mandeville Senator Jack Donahue files legislation that he says will control the costs of the TOPS scholarship program. Donahue says under his bill a baseline would be set on how much a student receives for tuition and that dollar amount will not go up in future years, unless the legislature votes to change it.


"What it doesn't do, it doesn't allow the stipend offered through TOPS to grow as the tuition to that school increases," Donahue said.
 
Every year the cost of the TOPS program for the state grows by the millions, because of rising tuition costs at public colleges. Donahue under his bill the TOPS award stays the same for a student through their college career, even if tuition goes up. 
 
Higher education officials and the Taylor Foundation, which started the TOPS program, will promote Donahue's bill at an 11:00 press conference Wednesday in Baton Rouge. 
 
 



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Gubernatorial candidates speak to small business leaders

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards, blames republican candidate Scott Angelle for helping to create the state's 1.6 billion dollar budget deficit. Angelle is currently a Public Service Commissioner, but he previously served in Bobby Jindal's administration. Edwards made the swipe at Angelle during a governor's forum in Baton Rouge.
(John Bel Edwards)

"I'll just remind you something about Scott, it is true the building (state capitol) is on fire, but I didn't spend several years helping Governor Jindal light the match," Edwards said.
 
During Angelle's opening statement, he said his door would be open to solutions from anyone when it comes to the state's budget problems. 
 
"It will take cooperation from people outside of the building to put together the policies, to create that stable, simple, transparent, and fair budget and tax program," Angelle said. 
 
Governor Bobby Jindal is using the Americans for Tax Reform and it's "no tax" pledge to develop solutions for the state's current budget woes, but Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne says the answer to Louisiana's problems are not in Washington DC. 
 
"I've had enough of Washington, we don't need Washington politics and policies to come to Louisiana and try to govern our state," Dardenne said.
 
"This proposal by the governor to get rid of the whole refundable portion of the inventory tax credit is crazy. That would be a huge tax increase on job creators," Vitter said.  



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ACLU alleges Shreveport principal violated the Constitution

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana alleges that Albert Hardison, principal at Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School in Shreveport, engaged in unlawful religious coercion by using God, prayer, and Christianity in school publications.  Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman says they recently learned of a newsletter Hardison sent home to parents ahead of standardized testing.


"That essentially was an invocation to prayer.  It had all kinds of references to God and that parents should pray for these students so that they can do well on the test."

She says the school's website also features a "Principal's Message" that includes references to God and Christ.  Esman says these references are a direct violation of the separation of Church and State.  She says it's troubling because Hardison should know what the Constitution says about this.

"He's obviously teaching the wrong thing to his students.  Either teaching them that the Constitution doesn't apply to him, which is not a good example, or he's teaching them the wrong version, which is also not a good example."

Esman says a letter has been sent to Caddo Parish School Superintendent Lamar Goree asking that all religious references be removed from the school's website.

"I'm assuming that the superintendent has a better understanding of the law than this particular principal does and that they will take the appropriate action becaust they're breaking the law."



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Gay rights activists in Louisiana seeking protection from discrimination

Indiana is taking heat for its new "religious freedom" law. Sarah Jane Brady, with the Forum for Equality, hopes Louisiana can learn from Indiana when they push a law in the upcoming session that protects discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.


"We could see a similar backlash based on the continuance denial of rights to gay and transgender community here in Louisiana," Brady said. 
 
Every year, lawmakers in Baton Rouge shoot down bills to protect the L-G-B-T community and there's also a constitutional amendment on the books that bans same-sex marriages in Louisiana. Brady hopes what has happened in Indiana will lead to changes with Louisiana's discrimination laws 
 
"And it's time that the lawmakers recognize that we are a class of people that deserve protection, need protection," Brady said. 
 
Critics of Indiana's law says it allows businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender individuals. Brady says they'll seek to pass a law in the upcoming session to make sure the LGBT community is protected from discrimination in Louisiana. 
 
"The Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act that will update the laws that we have here in our state to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," Brady said. 
 



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LSU researcher says Common Core's brand is tainted

A poll conducted by LSU finds Louisiana residents oppose education standards that are called Common Core, but support the concept. Doctor Michael Henderson, director of LSU's Public Policy Research Lab, says when citizens were asked if they support Common Core, only 39-percent said yes.


"But when you ask about that same program, but take out that name, you get majority support for it, 67% support," Henderson said.
 
Henderson says the poll also shows the public is poorly informed on who developed the education standards for common core. He says that's based on the answers they got when they asked who developed the standards, the federal government or the state. 
 
"There's a lot of confusion that people really don't know, there's some misperceptions out there and there's also some guessing," Henderson said.
 
Henderson says the political fighting over Common Core shows that it has tainted the Common Core brand.
 
"They're arguing over the things that they think Common Core might be, but they are not necessarily arguing about the principles that underlie, because there's a lot of agreement on those principles, if you don't call them Common Core," Henderson said. 
 
 
 
 



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Legislator wants naturalization test in schools

A Lafayette legislator proposes a bill that would require state high school students to pass a test equal to the civics portion of the US Naturalization Test.  Senator Page Cortez says 92-percent of immigrants pass the naturalization test, while studies have shown that less than 4-percent of US born high school students are capable of getting a passing grade.


"Naturalized citizens actually know more about the American freedoms and American government and the way of government and public service and compatriotism than our own natural born citizens."

He says there is a concern nationally that that naturalized citizens know more about our government than natural-born citizens.  Cortez says his bill ultimately make this test a requirement for graduation.

"Civics is a required course for graduation.  So in order to pass civics, you have to pass this test.  And in order to graduate, you have to pass civics."

Cortez says this is part of a national movement called the "Civics Initiation Initiative" that hopes to have this implemented in all 50 states by 2017.   He says there's more to this than just smarten up kids in civics class.

"Hopefully to engage the future of public servants.  To get them involved in pubic service."



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LSP: Bossier man arrested for child porn had a live feed cameras throughout his home

A Bossier Parish man's bond is set at three-million dollars and he faces up to 120 years in prison if convicted on child pornography charges. State Police trooper Matt Harris says during a search of 60-year-old Robert Childs' home they found cameras that were recording houses in the neighborhood where children lived. 

"And he was taking live feed video of juveniles and storing it to hard drives, basically recording it to a DVR," Harris said. 
 
Harris says state police had a warrant to search Childs' home after an IP address located inside his house was found to be downloading child pornography.
 
He says once inside, agents located strategically placed cameras.
 
"Basically focusing on areas where children played," Harris said.  
 
Harris says child pornography was also being downloaded at the time of the search. Childs was charged with 300 counts of possession of child pornography and three counts of distribution of child porn.  
 
 
 



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Baton Rouge Judge throws out anti-common core lawsuit

A state judge throws out a lawsuit that sought to remove Common Core from Louisiana's public schools. Judge Tim Kelley says he dismissed the suit, because it should have been filed within two years after the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved Common Core in 2010. State Education Superintendent John White applauds the decision.


"You can't just turn around and appeal to the courts and say whoops, now I think something different, sorry I didn't catch that five years ago," White said.
 
White says he's glad the courts dismissed an attempt to force teachers back to the drawing board when there's solid education standards already in place. 
 
Seventeen lawmakers filed the lawsuit, which has the support of Governor Bobby Jindal. Lake Charles Representative Brett Geymann says they plan to appeal. Geymann disagrees with Judge Kelley's ruling, because the adoption of Common Core was done illegally and without public comment. 
 
"Our argument all along has been that you can't have a time frame that's been expired, when the process never started in the first place," Geymann said. 
 
Despite Judge Kelley's ruling, Geymann says they will continue their efforts to eliminate Common Core, whether that's through the courts and the upcoming legislative session.  
 
 



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Louisiana Democrats endorse John Bel Edwards

The Louisiana Democratic Party endorses Amite Representative John Bel Edwards as its candidate in Louisiana's governor's race.  It is believed that this move will deter other major Democratic candidates from jumping into the race.  


Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat thinks this shows that Edwards is the Democrats last, best hope for governor.
 
"There was a lot of people hoping that Mayor of New Orleans Mitch Landrieu would run, but I think this is a sign that Mitch has basically told people privately that he's not going to run for governor and stay where he is."

Pinsonat says the party's endorsement, on top of others Edwards has received, puts him in a good position.

"He's got teachers, he's got unions, and now he's got the state Democratic party.  So everything's in place for him to probably make the runoff."

Pinsonat says this is a good endorsement for Edwards, but it is a mixed bag.  He says Louisiana voters haven't been kind to Democrats in recent statewide elections.

"John Bel Edwards biggest obstacle right now is raising enough money to stay with the Republican candidates for governor and, secondly, overcome the bias against Democrats in Louisiana."
 



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National Wildlife Federation looks at Gulf oil spill impact 5 years later

A report from the National Wildlife Federation provides evidence that sea turtles, dolphins, fish and birds are still suffering from the BP oill spill that occurred nearly five years ago. Lead author of the report, Ryan Fikes, says the number of Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests have declined on average since 2010.


"The number of nests fell dramatically again in 2013 and 2014, indicating that the females of reproductive age are potentially in poor health," Fikes said.
 
The National Wildlife Federation report looked at how 20 types of wildlife are faring in the wake of the spill. Fikes says the exposure to oil has been shown to cause abnormal development in many species of fish and dolphins on the Louisiana coast were found dead at four times the historic rates in 2014.
 
"These dolphins have been intensively studied and the science points very strongly at the after effects of the deepwater horizon," Fikes said.
 
Fikes says comprehensive modeling estimates that 12-percent of the brown pelicans and 32-percent of the laughing gulls in the northern gulf died as a result of the oil spill. 
 
"This translates into more than 230,000 individuals with the likelihood of exposure to as many as 735,000 laughing gulls." 
 
BP released a report earlier this month that the spill has not created a significant long-term impact to the population of any Gulf species.  



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LDWF investigating fatal boat wreck on the Pearl River

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries continues its investigation into a fatal boat wreck on the Pearl River in St. Tammany Parish. The incident claimed the life of 41-year-old Terry O' Keefe Jr of Folsum and his 31-year-old girlfriend Jonie Morgan still has not been found. LDWF spokesperson Adam Einck says their 14 foot aluminum vessel capsized on Saturday near lock #3.


"When it got on the other side, the current, the turbulent water, capsized the boat and five people went into the water," Einck said.
 
Einck says there were three children on the boat, who were because they wore life jackets. He says a 16-year-old came upon the scene and tried to drag two of the children and the mother to safety. 
 
"He was unable to keep the mother afloat and had her by the shirt, but unfortunately her shirt ripped off with the current and she went under," Einck said.
 
The youngest person on the boat was a four-year-old girl. Einck says it appears at this time she was stuck under the vessel.
 
"And she was able to breath underneath there. She was under there for about 30 minutes and then she popped up and officials were able to retrieve her from the water and get her to shore." 



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8th grader wants new dress code in Rapides Parish

Michelle Southern reporting.
An 8th grade student from Buckeye High School in Deville has started an online petition to change the uniform policy in Rapides Parish. Currently they are essentially only allowed to wear navy or khaki bottoms and white collared shirts. 14-year-old Brandon Richardson feels the current dress code is far too restrictive. (photo provided by Richardson)


"Students aren't liking them, they aren't really affordable --- safety and bullying issues still exist," said Richardson.

The change.org petition states that students should not be told what to wear everyday because they are not able to express themselves. 

School leaders assert the current policy exists so that students can be easily identified on field trips.

But Richardson feels if everyone looks alike it could cause problems in crisis situations.

"It's very hard to identify students at a school if they all look the same," says Richardson. "That could potentially be harmful to the students and people that are at the school."

Others who support the dress code that's in place say it puts all students on level playing fields, but Richardson says when it comes to clothing, bullying still exists with uniforms. 

He says they would like to see the policy changed to one more similar to Rapides' current "out of uniform" day rules.

"They would be appropriate length and the clothes would be appropriate," says Richardson. "But you'd also have the freedom to express yourself and how you feel about what you wear."




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Leger's proposal would use oil spill money to fund higher ed

A proposal to be sponsored by New Orleans Representative Walt Leger would use Gulf oil spill money for possible long-term financing for Louisiana colleges.  Leger feels a trust fund should be set up for colleges from recovery money received from the 2010 disaster.


"And that we then use the interest earned off of that trust fund to be a baseline of funding for higher education."

The state is expected to receive billions of dollars from BP to pay for economic damage caused by the spill.  Legislators have already dedicated the first $1 billion of that money.  Leger's proposal would target money above that.  He says his proposal would fund higher education moving forward.

"And while that may not assist us in meeting our obligation to this year's budget, we think that it can be very helpful in future budgets to have this source of funding in place."

The state Board of Regents have thrown their support behind Leger's proposal.  Leger says there is no time table on when the BP issue will be resolved, but is confident that the state will be successful.

"I think we ought to do something smart with the money and make sure that it goes to investing in our future and investing in our students." 



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Tigers lose a wild series to Kentucky

When the polls come out later today, it's likely the LSU Tigers will no longer be ranked number one after a wild series to the Wildcats of Kenutcky. LSU could not hold on to a three-run lead in the eighth and ended up losing to Kentucky 12-10 in 11 innings yesterday. Shortstop Alex Bregman says LSU didn't get a lot of baseball fortune during the three-game series.


"It was a tricky weekend, all around, I think a lot of guys squared it up right at people" Bregram said. "But we didn't play well enough down the stretch to win, give them a lot of credit, they battled back. Not our best baseball weekend."
 
LSU had a 10-9 lead in the ninth inning, but with two outs, Wildcasts pinch hitter Riley Mahan hit an inside the park home run, when left fielder Jared Foster dove for his liner, missed it and then Bregman slipped and fell while retrieving the baseball.
 
"You saw one of the more bizarre plays that you'll ever see," Coach Paul Mainieri said.
 
It's the first weekend series the Tigers have lost this year as they fall to 5-and-4 in SEC play. Mainieri says they had a chance to win all three games,if not for some strange plays. 
 
"The two games we lost, you think about, we got the game winning hit, the game is over, and it hit our baserunner. And the other one, we are one out from winning, and the guy gets an inside the park home run. What's the odds of seeing those two things happen, especially in one weekend. I don't know if I've seen it in 30 years." 
 
 
 
 



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Ag and Forestry conducts Emerald Ash Borer trap surveys

The state department of agriculture and forestry is setting out traps to track the invasive asian bug called the Emerald Ash Borer. The beetle was discovered recently in Webster Parish and it kills ash trees. Commissioner Mike Strain says the traps will be placed in high risk areas along the interstate, welcome centers and the Mississippi River Delta.


'If you see these hanging, please don't touch them, please leave them alone," Strain said. "We are trying to delineate the exact area where the Emerald Ash Borer is."
 
Strain says the beetle, which is difficult to eradicate, is often transported into an area by infested firewood.
 
"So we say burn it where you buy it," Strain said. "Please don't move firewood more than 10 miles from where you buy it."
 
Strain says they want to keep this insect from attacking the thousands of Ash trees in the Atchafalaya Basin, the Mississippi River delta and urban areas as well.
 



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LWC: Private sector adds 26,000 jobs over the last year

The Louisiana Workforce Commission says Louisiana private employers have added 26,000 jobs over the year based on February employment numbers. The commission's executive director Curt Eysink says this type of growth should continue.


"If we look at our forecast which we are developing now, our long term forecast still calls for more growth in the next 10 years, then we had in the past 10 years," Eysink said. 
 
The unemployment rate for February was 6.7%, but it's the second straight month it has declined. Eysink says the unemployment rate rose during the second half of 2014 as the state saw a large increase in people looking for jobs. 
 
"So a lot of those people entered the workforce in that rapid growth period are now finding work," Eysink said.
 
Eysink credits the job growth to a growing chemical industry in Louisiana. 
 
"We still continue to see really strong growth in southwest Louisiana with those huge projects out there. We're seeing growth along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans."  



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LSU Alumni Hall of Distinction inductees include LoLo Jones, Patrick Mulhearn, Herb Vincent

Michelle Southern reporting. 
The 2015 LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction took place Friday night and among this year's inductees are track Olympian Lolo Jones and SEC Associate Commissioner of Communications Herb Vincent.


Celtic Studios Executive Director Patrick Mulhearn will also be inducted and he says his life continues to revolve around LSU.
 
"I'm someone who purposely got married outside of football season and sort-of timed having my kids outside of football season," said Mulhearn. "I'm slightly obsessed with LSU."

The Alumni Association says Hall of Distinction inductees are those who have distinguished themselves through their careers, their personal civic accomplishments and their loyalty to their alma mater. 

Mulhearn, who is originally from Mississippi and graduated from LSU grad school in 2000, says LSU is the reason he fell in love with Louisiana.

"They adopted me and I adopted it," said Mulhearn. "I'm not going anywhere and I can't say enough about what the education has done for me."

Vincent has worked as LSU's Sports Information Director and former Associate Athletic Director. He's worked under Tiger football coaches including Mike Archer, Curley Hallman, Gerry DiNardo, Nick Saban and Les miles.

Vincent doesn't have anything bad to say about Saban as it was always important to the now Alabama coach to keep LSU traditions alive.

"Changing the helmet or changing the uniform, he stuck by all that," said Vincent. "I thought of that when I saw CBS named LSU's helmet the best in college football. I think it really is and I remember having that conversation with Saban."

Also being inducted this year is Atlantic Company of America President David Suarez and VP of Research of at the University of Texas John Tinsley Oden. Vincent says he didn't believe it when he got the call.

"To see people like that and to be part of that class is humbling and a real honor."
 
 




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Sasol breaks ground near Westlake

Sasol has broken ground on its ethane cracker and derivatives mega project near Westlake.  The South African-based company expects the facility to be in operation in 2018.  Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Nic Hunter says they are excited that this project is finally underway.


"What we witnessed today was the ground breaking of not only one of the largest single-company investments in the state of Louisiana, but one of the largest industrial investments in the country."

By the time the project is complete, Sasol's investment will total almost $9 billion.  Hunter says the construction of this project will have an sudden impact on the economy in southwest Louisiana.

"It means thousands of construction jobs.  It means thousands of people coming here and spending their dollars here."

The project will create more than 5,000 construction jobs and over 500 full-time positions.  Hunter feels Sasol's commitment to southwest Louisiana puts the area in a great position for future growth.

"Our petro-chemical industry, with the investments from companies like Sasol and others, the amount of jobs, the amount of infrastructure we're bringing here:  keep your eye on southwest Louisiana.  Because we have some really great things coming up." 



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Rayne man wanted for crawfish theft in Acadia Parish

The Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office has issued an arrest warrant for a Rayne man accused of stealing crawfish from a crawfish plant.  Spokeswoman Maxine Trahan says a dock worker called authorities after witnessing the theft.


"This individual, who has been identified as Cary Gordon Bastain, arrived and loaded six crawfish sacks into the back of the white Camaro that he was driving."

She says Bastain fled the scene driving at speeds of over 100 miles-per-hour toward Vermillion and Lafayette parishes.  He faces charges of simple burglary, reckless operation, and aggravated flight from an officer.  Bastian is still at large and Trahan says they're asking for the public's help bringing him in.

"Anyone who may know of his whereabouts, we're asking that you contact the sheriff's office, Wildlife and Fisheries, or even the Vermillion Parish Sheriff's Office so that we can arrest him for the charges that he's being charged." 



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LSU fraternity shut down

LSU's Acacia fraternity has been closed after a school investigation determined the group hazed new members last fall.  The university reports it confirmed several Student Code violations, including forced alcohol consumption,physical violence, and several acts of theft during a trip to Auburn last fall.  
 
The school also found the fraternity did not allow new members to eat the week of initiation and they were required to participate in activities that interfered with academic and psychological well-being.  In a statement, LSU President F. King Alexander said hazing will not be tolerated and suspended the fraternity until at least 2018.  Acacia's national headquarters agrees with LSU's decision to dissolve the chapter.



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