The adult smoking rate in the US is falling faster than is has in the past 20 years based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 50 years ago, roughly 42% of adults in the US smoked, and that rate has now fallen to about 15%. Renee Underwood with the state Department of Health and Hospitals says currently there is no state specific data on smokers. She says their department launched a statewide campaign last year to help people kick their tobacco habits.
“The campaign has reached over two million Louisiana residents with a focus on the northern half of our state, where smoking prevalence is higher among both youth and adult populations,” Underwood said.
The smoking rate in the US typically drops by less than 1% a year, but in 2015 the rate decreased by 2%. Underwood says she hopes campaigns like the Louisiana Tobacco Quit Line have helped reduce the number of smokers. She says the state quit line has helped more than 16,000 smokers just in the last year.
“The quit line offers free phone counseling and nicotine replacement therapy to callers 13 years of age or older,” Underwood said.
Underwood says DHH also partners with other organizations, such as the Louisiana Public Health Institute and the American Cancer Society, to reduce the number of people who start smoking and to get smokers the resources they need to quit.
“We also work in partnership with several statewide and national organizations to coordinate strategies that prevent young people from becoming smokers, eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke, and promote cessation services,” Underwood said.
A bill to require municipalities to post warning signs 500 feet ahead of red light cameras has just received final legislative passage. New Orleans Senator Troy Carter says red light cameras should be about safety, not collecting revenues.
“If those that push for red light cameras truly want public safety, then they would be fine with posting signs and giving people an opportunity to be noticed that in fact there is a red light camera coming up,” Carter said.
Carter says the bill is also about giving people who do run red lights due process.
“If a sign is not posted, then the motorist has the opportunity to challenge that and go to court and then the ticket is inadmissible and cannot be collected,” Carter said.
Carter says if someone is truly for public safety, they would support the proposed law, but if they want to trick people into paying fines, they would hate the bill. Carter says public safety should trump revenue enhancement.
“At the end of the day, we want to prevent people from running red lights period for public safety. We don’t want to trick them and just continue to collect fines,” Carter said.
The measure now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
A bill to help parents keep up with who their kids are talking to online is heading to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Metairie Representative Cameron Henry says his bill requires sex offenders to register any email addresses or online user names, as they would with a phone number or address. He says kids are playing online games and talking to strangers on the internet, and this will help parents make sure their children aren’t talking to predators.
“They have to register once a year. He will have to, on the form that he fills out, will have to put any screen names he has, his email address, if he has a static IP address,” Henry said.
The measure passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, and Governor Edwards is expected to sign the bill. Henry says sex offenders have a whole new way to find victims, thanks to online games and social media sites.
“Where a sex offender maybe used to go to parks and things like that to try to find victims, now they’re literally doing it in your living room through these online games,” Henry said.
Henry says a data base will be established through state police so parents could log into a site or call troopers to see if the person their child is talking to is really a sex offender. He says the penalty for not registering would be the same as not registering a vehicle or new address.
A new website, BayouOpportunity.com, has just been launched to help workers in the oil and gas industry find new jobs, as unemployment in that sector continues to rise. Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson says this new site could help people who have lost their jobs in this industry.
“A great place for some of our folks who are in the oil and gas industry that have been displaced from their current job and are seeking employment, it’s a great place to start,” Pierson said.
Pierson says they will also hold a career fair in Schriever this June to help people get new jobs and find training opportunities in the oil and gas sector. He says they hope to have upwards of 30 employers at the event. Pierson says the new website also has information about the job fair.
“Going to BayouOpportunity.com will get you prepared to attend the job fair that’ll be conducted on the 10th of June between 9 and 1 at Fletcher Technical Community College,” Pierson said.
Pierson says you don’t have to be a welder or a pipefitter to find a job at BayouOpportunity.com or the job fair at Fletcher Technical Community College. He says there’s lots of opportunity in this field.
“Obviously there’s project management positions, administrative positions, engineering, other factors that all go into this massive amount of investment that’s coming to Louisiana,” Pierson said.
PETA has sent a letter to LSU calling for them to end the live mascot program once Mike VI passes away. Lewis Crary, a captive wildlife specialist with PETA, says wild animals are not meant to live in captivity on a college campus.
“The biggest tribute that LSU could pay to Mike VI would be to make sure that no more tigers are forced to live lives of deprivation just to make a few live appearances each year,” Crary said.
Crary says if LSU genuinely cares about tigers, they can donate to big cat sanctuaries or conservation efforts. But he says locking up another tiger is not the way to promote team spirit.
“Confining another tiger for its entire life on a university campus is cruel to the tiger, does nothing for the species, and teaches students that it’s okay to imprison wild animals for human entertainment,” Crary said.
LSU issued a statement in response to the letter, saying this is not the time to discuss football or a new mascot. Mike’s attending vet Dr. David Baker says they’re just worried about Mike’s wellbeing.
“I’m just not focused on that right now. I’m focused on Mike’s treatment plan,” Baker said.
The state Department of Children and Family Services says a Baton Rouge mother took the appropriate steps when she left her newborn baby at a fire station, instead of abandoning the child. Assistant Secretary of Child Welfare Program Rhenda Hodnett says the child was placed in the arms of a fireman and then transported to Woman’s Hospital for a checkup. She says the mother will face no charges.
“It is completely anonymous. As long as the child is found to be healthy, free from abuse and neglect. It’s a safe alternative to any other way of abandoning a child.”
Hodnett says newborns up to 60 days old can be relinquished in the hands an employee at an emergency care facility. She says hospitals, police stations, and child advocacy centers are examples of locations where a child can be handed over.
“Since 2004, 44 infants have been relinquished using the Safe Haven law.”
Hodnett says the baby must be placed in the hands of an official, the newborn cannot be left on the door step or somewhere in the building. She says at that time, the mother is issued a card with a number to call if she wants to provide additional information.
“She also has the option at that time to provide some information, particularly medical information that would be helpful for us in caring for that child.”
After finishing second to Atlanta to host the Super Bowl in 2019, some are wondering if it’s time for a new stadium in order to attract another Super Bowl. This is the second straight time New Orleans has lost to a city that was in the process of building a new stadium. Former-governor Kathleen Blanco, who sits on the LSED board, which oversees the Dome, says Louisiana does not need to build a new stadium to host a Super Bowl.
“That’s a very expensive project, and I don’t think that Louisiana’s financial circumstances right now would allow for that discussion,” Blanco said.
Blanco says they are always looking at ways to keep the Mercedes-Benz Superdome up to date. She says football fans will enjoy the new high definition video board that will be in place for the upcoming season. She says keeping the 40-year-old building in top notch condition takes a lot of money.
“We will continue to make investments in improving the Dome, and that is unless the legislature takes more money out of our coffers. It takes a lot of money to keep these buildings in good shape, to keep them updated,” Blanco said.
The NFL has now awarded Super Bowls through 2021. Blanco remains optimistic that the Mercedes Benz Superdome will be able to host at least one more Super Bowl.
“I think we’ll be fine in the future. I mean, anything can happen down the road, but I do believe we have a great property right now,” Blanco said.
A report from the Tulane University Cowen Institute says if the legislature is forced to reduce state funding for TOPS cuts, they hope students most in need of financial assistance are protected first. Policy director Vincent Rossmeier says the program has increasingly awarded scholarships to students who are coming from families, who could otherwise afford college.
“Right now, 40% of students, who received TOPS scholarships last year, were coming from families who were making $100,000 or more.”
Rossmeier says TOPS is an excellent vehicle for students who can least afford to go to college to manage the costs. He says if legislators raise the academic requirements for students to achieve a TOPS scholarship, it will leave a lot of college worthy students with no way of paying for college.
“If you raise the ACT score by just one point for the requirement, we found it would reduce the eligibility based on 2015 numbers, by 28% of students statewide.”
The report also found raising the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.7 would reduce the eligibility of 22 percent of students in Louisiana. Rossmeier says TOPS was originally designed to help low-income students afford higher education, so the Cowen Institute favors need-based changes if cuts are made to the program…
“You want to ensure that students have the ability to afford college and hopefully they’ll stay in state long term and help the economy grow. Education is the main vehicle to long term economic prosperity.”
Congressman Ralph Abraham has introduced legislation that seeks to combat what he says is executive overreach on the issue of transgender bathrooms in public schools. President Obama issued a decree that public schools must let transgender students use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, or risk losing federal funding. Abraham says the President can’t threaten to withhold money that is appropriated by Congress.
“For me, this is not only a social issue, but it is a constitutional issue. Congress is the one that are empowered to enact laws. It’s not the president,” Abraham said.
Abraham says his bill clarifies the term “sex” to refer to a person’s biological sex, not their gender identity. He says a person’s gender shouldn’t be based on how they feel that day, and he says he’s tired of the President pushing his liberal agenda before he leaves office.
“I’m tired of less than 1% of the population dictating what the other 99-point-whatever of us have to do, as far as laws are concerned,” Abraham said.
Abraham says the term “sex” has been widely interpreted to refer to biological sex for 40 years, and his bill reduces the ambiguity suddenly surrounding the word. He says he expects a positive response to the bill.
“We’ve already got some co-sponsors. We expect it to gain traction. The bill was just dropped basically last night, and I expect a real good response to it,” Abraham said.
A House-approved bill that would punish so-called sanctuary cities by making it difficult for them to borrow money for construction projects was defeated in a Senate committee. The legislation was designed to force New Orleans and Lafayette to follow federal immigration laws. New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison spoke out against the bill.
“NOPD will always work with federal immigration officials when there is a criminal warrant. Despite what politicians in Baton Rouge are saying, this policy does not make New Orleans a sanctuary city.”
Supporters of the legislation said this bill would help keep cities safe from illegal immigrants. Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand spoke out in opposition about the unintended consequences this measure brings to his community.
“And I resent the fact when people come in here and testify before this body and say that I’m making the streets of my parish unsafe.”
Normand says this Sanctuary City legislation is not needed and makes no sense.
“Don’t come down here with some overarching bull sh*t Republican philosophy from Washington DC and I’m a Republican and I’ve deported more people per capita in this country, in any county in the country, and tell me how to do my business.”
Governor John Bel Edwards and other state and local officials cut the ribbon today on the Curtis Coleman Memorial Bridge over the Red River in Rapides Parish. Rodney Mallett with the Department of Transportation says this new bridge will benefit all drivers in Cenla.
“It’s going to be an easy path now from US 165 or US 71 to get to Interstate 49. So it’s going to be very beneficial for the entire region,” Mallett said.
Mallett says this bridge will be good for the region as it continues to grow because it connects Pineville and Alexandria and is also the cut through to I-49. He says a lot of time and money went into building the new US 71 bridge.
“It started in January of 2011, and it was almost $83 million to build this bridge,” Mallett said.
Mallett says all four lanes of the bridge are now open, which he says will benefit people cutting through from one highway to another. He says the old bridge, the O.K. Allen Bridge, was not up to date on its safety standards.
“To have this bridge, to have the additional capacity, and have it meet today’s standards is going to be beneficial to all of central Louisiana,” Mallett said.
On a 3-2 vote a Senate committee voted against the Pastor
Protection Act, which would have provided protection for religious organizations
if they refuse to perform a same sex marriage. Bossier City Representative Mike
Johnson says this bill is NOT as expansive as some of the religious freedom
bills passed in other states.
“This bill seeks to strike a balance in a careful manner on a very narrow issue pertaining to churches only, and that’s really all the bill does. It’s very short and limited in its scope,” Johnson said.
But New Orleans Senator JP Morrell says pastors and clergy members are already protected under the Religious Freedom Protection Act. He says he doesn’t see a need for this bill.
“I’m not aware of a case in this state where clergy were required to marry a gay couple. So honestly, I think your bill is kind of a solution in search of a problem,” Morrell said.
But Johnson says religious freedom protection is becoming more and more narrow. He says the Obama Administration even said that each state will have to figure out how to balance protecting people’s rights once gay marriage was legalized.
“As the landscape shits, there’s a need to further define in these specific instances what the state’s position is on some of these issues,” Johnson said.
This bill won easy approval in the House on an 80-18 vote, but New Orleans Senators Karen Peterson and Morrell fought against this legislation in Senate Judiciary B. It received opposition from LGBT groups and Morrell expressed their concerns during debate in committee today.
“Regardless of how you feel about something, you should never put discrimination in law, and I feel like, when I look at your bill, we’re putting discrimination in law,” Morrell said.
The bill that increases the minimum age for strippers to 21-years-old heads to Governor John Bel Edwards’ desk to be signed into law after the Senate gave final approval. Lake Charles Sen. Ronnie Johns, says he’s authored the bill as a way to combat human trafficking and he’s been working with the Department of Children and Family Services on this issue.
“We broke ground on the very first shelter that will be devoted to minor females rescued from human trafficking.”
This is the same legislation that received the joke amendment by Jackson Rep. Kenny Havard to cap the age of strippers to 28-years-old and weigh no more than 160 pounds. But there were no comments about that amendment when the Senate gave final approval. During the controversy, Johns has been focused on creating a more pro-active approach to human trafficking.
“Louisiana is recognized around the country as having some of the strongest and best human trafficking laws out there.”
Havard has not apologized for proposing his controversial amendment. During work on the House floor on Monday, Havard took some ribbing from Lafayette Rep. Nancy Landry on one of his resolutions on overweight truck movement on state highways.
“Did you know that this subject of weight limits is on that’s befitting the dignity of this body and I appreciate you bringing this bill today.”
Legislation to require retail pet stores in the state to keep records and post breeders names along with licensing information now heads to the House floor for final legislative passage. Author of the bill, Metairie Sen. Danny Martiny, says this specifies where these animals come from and two other requirements.
“The second part deals with a prohibition that they can’t sell a dog or a cat that is less than 8 weeks old. The third one deals with a sign that has to be posted on the cage where the animal is located.”
State Director of the Humane Society of the United States Julia Breaux says currently, if you purchase a dog or a cat from a pets store, you have no way of knowing where the animal originated from. She says the Department of Health and Hospitals is in support of the bill.
“Because it helps them track zoonotical disease outbreaks that may originate through pet stores.”
Breaux says there are some exceptions in the legislation.
“It will not affect any Humane Societies or animal shelters that are offering dogs for adoption at pet stores.”
New Orleans sports officials make their pitch to the NFL owners today to host the 2019 Super Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Atlanta, Miami, and Tampa are the other cities competing against the Big Easy. CBS Sports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora says the age of the Superdome hurts New Orleans’ bid.
“You’ve got some teams now in the mix that have new facilities or at least facilities that will be brand spanking new by the time they’d be in line to host the game. That’s been the leagues protocol, is to reward those teams.”
But La Canfora says New Orleans still has a fighting chance. He says even with the Superdome blackout in the 2013 Super Bowl, the city received outstanding reviews about the great atmosphere leading up to the game.
“Everyone at the network was incredibly thrilled with the different locations, the way we were able to have sets throughout the city. It plays well on TV, it’s a big event city, it’s a destination spot.”
La Canfora says the fact that Saints owner Tom Benson is 88-years-old and this could be his last shot to host the Super Bowl in New Orleans also resonates with some of the NFL owners. He says the vote will be close.
“They kind of go through rounds where they have everybody there and everybody gets voted on and then they start dropping off. I suspect it takes several go-throughs before they ultimately settle it.”
LSU freshman left-hander Jake Latz will start on the mound Tuesday night for the Tigers when they take on Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Latz has only appeared three games this season as he recovered from elbow surgery. But Coach Paul Mainieri says Latz pitched well on Saturday and hopes his arm troubles are behind him.
“He could be a vital force for us, not only for next year, but for the remainder of the season,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri also had the option to use seven-game winner Alex Lange, who last pitched three innings on Thursday, because the game was halted because of severe weather. Mainieri says Lange will pitch Wednesday night against Florida, if the Tigers win tonight.
“We need Alex to be 100% healthy and ready to go as we go into the NCAA tournament next week, so we just didn’t want to rush him back,” Mainieri said.
LSU enters the SEC Tournament with 11 victories in their last 12 games and they’ve put themselves in a position to possibly be a Top 8 National seed and host up until the College World Series. Mainieri says his team is worthy of Top 8 national seed consideration.
“We could make a good showing here, I hope we would get strong consideration. I like the way our team is developing, and I think we have a chance to make a run in the NCAA tournament,” Mainieri said.
Members of the Tangipahoa Parish Chapter of the NAACP are calling for the resignation of school Superintendent Mark Kolwe. This is because 4.0 African American student and athlete Andrew Jones was not allowed to walk at his graduation ceremony at Amite High School because of his facial hair. Tangipahoa NAACP President Patricia Morris says this has more to do with Jones’ race than his goatee.
“They’ve let white kids with beards walk across the stage from different schools, and nothing was said about it,” Morris said.
Morris says this race war in the school district goes beyond just not letting a student walk at graduation. She also believes Jones was targeted because he was also the school’s valedictorian.
“If a black child gets the valedictorian status, years ago they would shave points from the kid’s grades to give a white child the advantage,” Morris said.
Morris says Jones was told to shave his beard for the first time just before the ceremony, and when he refused, the school tried to take his awards.
“They did not give him the opportunity to march. In fact, they took his robe from him, they disrobed him, and tried to take all his credentials, including his cap,” Morris said.
Superintendent Kolwe has issued a statement saying it’s regrettable that any student, particularly an honor student, should not get to participate in the graduation ceremony. However, the statement says, Jones made that decision himself by failing to comply with the rules applicable to all other students and gave him multiple opportunities to shave before the ceremony started.
The victim in a Baton Rouge fatal shooting early this morning has been identified as 34-year-old Broderick Brooks, who was a school board member in East Feliciana Parish. Brooks had been a member of the school board for about five and a half years. Fellow school board member Beth Dawson says the news of Brooks’ death came as a shock to everyone.
“He was just an all-around good person and helped in so many ways,” Dawson said.
Brooks was reportedly found dead in the driver’s seat of his vehicle in north Baton Rouge with multiple gunshot wounds around 3:30 this morning. There are no known motives or suspects, and investigation is ongoing. Dawson says Brooks was very active in the school board and in the community.
“He had just became a minister and had just delivered his first sermon, and he has his own church,” Dawson said.
Brooks also worked as the community outreach director for RKM, a health clinic in Clinton, for about seven years, and he previously served as editor of the Baker Observer, a newspaper that closed in 2009. Dawson says she’s known Brooks since he was in middle school. She says he has always been there when someone needed him.
“Even as a student, he was a leader, very much so,” Dawson said.
Governor John Bel Edwards legislative agenda for this regular session has not done well. A proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage has been bottled up in the Senate, an effort to require women and men receive equal pay for equal work was killed by a House committee. Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says republicans in the legislature have no problem voting against these issues.
“That’s what happens when you have a Democratic governor who’s trying to pass legislation the Republicans back home aren’t that crazy about,” Pinsonat said.
The governor’s attempts to limit charter schools or vouchers has also fallen on deaf ears by a legislative body that has a republican majority. Pinsonat says Louisiana is a red state and there’s not much support for a higher minimum wage or fewer charter schools.
“Republicans can easily vote against it with no retribution. In fact, what they’re doing is popular in their base,” Pinsonat said.
Pinsonat says Edwards’ inability to get a majority of his legislative agenda accomplished in the regular session, could hurt his efforts during an anticipated special session next month that would seek to raise revenue to address a $600 million budget shortfall.
“Right now there’s not a great outlook for getting additional revenue, especially if it requires two-thirds vote by the legislature,” Pinsonat said.
The House Transportation Committee gave the green light today to a Senate approved measure that would make it the law for oncoming traffic to stop for a school bus on a two-lane road with a continuous turn left turn lane.
Metairie Senator Danny Martiny says the rule would apply on roadways with that lane in the middle where you could either turn left or right.
"This will allow those cameras to say, if you're on a road like that, and the school bus stops and extends the stop signs, traffic in both directions has to stop," said Martiny.
New Iberia Representative Terry Landry says this bill is needed because many motorists get confused about the law.
"I think that the turn lanes are not a divided road and I think we're putting our children at risk because some of them cross those lanes," said Landry.
The measure passed without objection and now heads to the House floor.