The second special session is over, but ULM political science professor John Sutherlin says Governor John Bel Edwards won’t be taking a breather anytime soon.
“He still has a huge task to go. Come July 1, Governor Edwards is going to have to start looking around at what to cut,” Sutherlin said.
The governor will have to make at least $300 million in cuts to the state budget for next fiscal year. Sutherlin says Edwards will be involved in trying to bolster the state’s ports, roads and bridges, while also working on some job creation projects.
“I would expect to see more infrastructure projects and less of those sort of flashy ribbon cutting ceremonies that we saw under Jindal,” Sutherlin said.
Sutherlin says with a Democrat in the White House it may help Edwards bring down more federal dollars from Washington for infrastructure projects. He anticipates the governor will also look to improve broadband internet service throughout the state.
“Louisiana has an interesting opportunity, because we’re mostly a rural state, to access some USDA funds for broadband development,” Sutherlin said.
The LSU Board of Supervisors gives the school’s ag center the green light to begin the process of growing medical marijuana that would be dispensed to eligible Louisiana patients. LSU Ag Center Chancellor Doctor Bill Richardson says they plan to grow medical weed on private property, away from campus, inside a facility that needs to be built.
"The indoor facility allows us to control the whole growing process, the higher security levels and the optimum use of pesticides to make sure that our product is not contaminated since it is being used in a drug environment."
The AgCenter plans to get a third-party investor involved to help pay for start-up costs. Richardson says while there are some concerns, they are excited about the research possibilities that exist.
"A particular drug to treat one five-year-old boy with seizures may not work with the next young man, so the research aspects of this, for the Agricultural Center, the two health sciences centers, and for Pennington. The fact that we can all work on this together is tremendous."
A Shreveport woman is wanted by police for making false accusations that a father molested his 5-month-old daughter. Lt. Bill Davis with the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office says 32-year-old Carrie Rivers was a babysitter for the family of the infant and when her services were no longer needed, she made up this story to make the parents mad. He says this allegation created major problems.
“Made this young child go through some invasive testing and of course the trauma of having the father removed from the home and other things. So we want to find her and we don’t know where she is.”
Davis says authorities believe Rivers is still in the northwest Louisiana area. He says Rivers first confronted the mother of the infant stating that the husband molested her daughter.
“Taking every precaution she could, she went ahead and brought the daughter to the hospital to get checked out and of course that’s when they found out there wasn’t any indication of sexual assault on the child.”
Rivers is also alleged to have taken the mother’s phone. Davis says he doesn’t want an incident like this to stop real victims of sexual assault from coming forward to the police. He says Rivers faces the charges of false swearing; unauthorized use of a moveable; and improper telecommunications.
“These folks who helped her out by giving her a chance to get some employment babysitting, she just basically turned on them and said I want to make them mad and made false accusations. I mean who does that?”
(photo courtesy of Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office)
Governor John Bel Edwards believes the legislature accomplished a lot when it comes to funding important state services but came up short in certain areas. Based on the taxes raised during the two special sessions, Edwards says higher education will not face any cuts, which is good news for students.
“Students in higher education are going to see the smallest increases in tuition in a decade and cuts that would’ve been crippling to our institutions will no longer take effect.”
Edwards says legislators also provided adequate funding for the public-private hospitals that proved care for the poor and uninsured.
“Safety net hospitals that serve communities are going to remain open to serve the needs of the most needy people that we represent.”
Edwards says while the budget is honest and disciplined, he isn’t completely satisfied with the final product. He says state funding for K-12 education will be reduced by 24 million dollars.
“This will limit our ability to reward teachers for educating the leaders of tomorrow, it is not the way that we should do our business if we are truly investing in Louisiana’s future.”
Edwards says he offered a plan to fully fund TOPS, but the scholarship program will only be funded at 70%. He says this is the first time TOPS has ever received a cut.
“Unfortunately, too many members of the legislature would not join me in making sure we could fully fund TOPS.”
Lawmakers failed to raise enough revenue in the special session to fully fund the TOPS scholarship program. However, in the final minutes, an amendment was added that means TOPS students would get all of their tuition paid in the fall semester, but they would have to pay about 60% of it in the spring semester. LSU President F King Alexander doesn’t think this is fair to students or their parents.
“To put students and parents in that situation in the fall, where they’re so worried about the spring, it’s a precarious position to put our families and students in,” Alexander said.
The idea behind this amendment was that more money could come in between now and the start of the spring semester so lawmakers could fund the program more. But Alexander says the state is gambling with our students.
“If we’re just hoping that revenues are going to come in in larger amounts, oil and gas is going to get better for us, I think that’s a risky gamble for us and a risky gamble for our students and families,” Alexander said.
Alexander says if lawmakers cannot fund TOPS by the second semester, it could create serious problems for students who need financial aid to cover the cost.
“Students can’t go out and apply for financial aid in the late fall. They apply for it in the summer for the year, and they just can’t go out and start over and apply to the federal government FAFSA forms for a second semester,” Alexander said.
It’s possible the governor will do a line item veto on the amendment, which would put TOPS back at 70% funded for both semesters.
Just before midnight, the Louisiana legislature gave final approval to a spending bill that calls for the TOPS scholarship program to be fully funded for the fall semester. West Monroe Senator Mike Walsworth says it’s the right thing to do.
"We made a promise to our kids," said Walsworth. "Not to their parents or anybody else, just to our kids. You know that, 'If you do this, this and this in high school, we'll give you tuition free."
But legislators left Baton Rouge without fully funding TOPS. Under the plan approved by lawmakers, TOPS students would only have 42-percent of their tuition covered for the spring semester.
Walsworth says hopefully the state will see higher than anticipated revenues as a result of taxes passed this year and rising oil prices.
"There's some dollars out there that could become, over the next 6 months, that may help fully fund the rest of TOPS that we need," said Walsworth.
Several democrats call the front-loading of TOPS a budget gimmick. Governor John Bel Edwards doesn’t anticipate a higher than expected amount of revenues rolling in, so TOPS students will be left with a big tuition bill for the spring semester.
"It's really problematic," said Edwards. "Especially because normal avenues for student financial assistance are not available at that time of year."
The LSU Board of Supervisors will vote today on whether or not their AgCenter will grow medical marijuana that would be sold to patients who receive a prescription for the drug. Spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter Frankie Gould says the law passed this year that expanded the diseases for which the drug can be prescribed, also outlined two possible growers for the plant.
“What the law did was it gave LSU and Southern AgCenters the first right of refusal to be licensed as sole production facility for medical marijuana,” Gould said.
The new drug will be a pill containing cannabis oil, and it will not be smoke able. Gould says LSU has the ability to grow the plant in their AgCenter. But she says they have a lot to consider before committing.
“There’s other issues about extraction into the oil and pill that is defined by the law, distribution, and those kinds of things,” Gould said.
Gould says at this point they aren’t sure if growing medical marijuana is a worthwhile investment, especially since state funding for colleges has been slashed in recent years. She says it could take $10 to $20 million to produce medical marijuana.
“Somehow this would have to be funded, and with our budget situation, that’s a little difficult right now. So there’s a lot of ifs,” Gould said.
The Louisiana filmed movie, Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey comes out in theaters today. Executive Director of Celtic Studios Patrick Mulhearn says the movie revolves around a Mississippi farmer who tries to secede from the Confederacy. He says the movie is set during the Civil War and was filmed in 10 different Louisiana parishes.
“Shot it East Feliciana, Evangeline, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. Helena, St. Landry and St. Tammany. It was all over the map.”
“Free State of Jones” is just one of several Louisiana shot films that will be shown on the silver screen later this year. The others are Bad Moms, When the Bough Breaks, the Magnificent 7 and Deepwater Horizon. He says unfortunately movie production is down this year, but there is still some activity.
“Business is off by about 80%, I know that a lot of people are excited right now because they’re seeing the production of Wolverine shooting here in Louisiana, both in north Louisiana and in the Orleans Parish area.”
Mulhearn says right now, Georgia is the hot state for movies as about 40 movies are filming in the Peach State. He says Hollywood South in Louisiana has hit a temporary lull and lawmakers can look at making changes to the state’s film incentive program next year, which could help spur movie production again.
“Naturally you should see projects start to gravitate back to Louisiana even though we’ll never be quite what it was or what Atlanta has been able to capture, we’ll see our fair share.”
As expected former LSU star Ben Simmons was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. He's the second player from LSU to be taken with the top pick. Shaquille O' Neal was the first in 1992. Simmons says this is a dream come true.
"Anything you want to do you can do honestly," Simmons said. "I've been wanting to do that since I was 5,6,7 and I finally accomplished that."
The 19 year-old averaged 19 points a game in his only season in Baton Rouge. He also averaged a dozen rebounds and five assists a contest. Simmons says he's worked hard to get himself ready for life in the NBA.
"From eating right, to getting my body right for 82 games, to dribbling, to shooting, ball handling, I think everything really needs to be worked on, because you are going to that next level where guys have been in the league for 10-plus years, so they have a lot of experience.
The Pelicans selected the shooter they craved with the sixth overall pick as New Orleans drafted Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield. The All-American averaged 25 points a game last season as he guided the Sooners to the Final Four. Hield made 46-percent of his 3-point shots. Hield says he's thankful to play in New Orleans.
"When I go there, I'll be a high character guy, bring a lot of energy," Hield said. "I'm a scorer, I can shoot the ball a lot, I love to shoot, when I go there I can feel like I can open up the floor for Anthony Davis."
General Manager Dell Demps says Heild is a phenomenal player and the player they targeted.
Grambling State President Willie Larkin turned in his resignation after spending less than a year as the leader of the historically black school in Lincoln Parish. Grambling's Faculty Senate was not pleased with Larkin as they were upset about failing enrollment, fundraising and the loss of the school's nursing program.
The University of Louisiana System Board, which oversees, Grambling, is not commenting on the situation, because it's a personnel matter.
Two Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Deputies were shot while serving a felony warrant in Monroe. Sheriff Jay Russell says the deputies arrived at the home of 26-year-old Rickie Wade, Jr. when they were notified he was in the back of the house. One deputy went through the home and the other went around the outside of the house.
“The deputy that was outside heard in the back of the house a scuffle. As he was going to the rear of the residence, he heard gunshots. As he started to draw his weapon, the suspect encountered him and shot him once also,” Russell said.
Russell says one deputy was shot in the leg, and the other near his face. One of the deputies is out of surgery and reportedly in stable condition. The other had to be airlifted to LSU Heath-Shreveport, where he is still in surgery and listed in stable condition.
Russell says Wade was found just a few blocks from the home a couple hours later. He says the SWAT team pumped OC gas into the house to get the suspect out of the residence without hurting him.
“He climbed into the attic of the residence. More gas was pumped into the attic. He fell out of the attic and at that time was apprehended by our SWAT team members”
Wade has had several warrants in the past few years for everything from burglary and theft to violating a protective order and domestic violence battery. Russell says this so-called scumbag needs to be behind bars.
“He is going to jail, and he will be in jail, hopefully for a while if we can keep him there. He’s someone that does not need to be walking around this community,” Russell said.
Russell says one of the wounded deputies is a 25 year veteran with OPSO, and the other is a 30 year vet. Their names have not been released, pending family notification.
An Abbeville man will spend the rest of his life in prison for fatally shooting a Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s deputy. District Attorney Keith Stutes says 22-year-old Quintylan Richard entered a plea of guilty on the two-year anniversary when he shot Deputy Allen Bares.
“I’m pleased to say we finally brought some resolution to a very, very tragic and difficult circumstance,” Stutes said.
Authorities say Bares was gunned down after confronting Richard and an alleged accomplice about a home they just robbed. Stutes says Richard will not get the death penalty, but he will spend the rest of his life in jail. He says the trial was set for next year, but everyone was ready to put this tragedy to rest.
“The resolution, eliminating the potential of the death penalty, the bringing of the matter to some type of resolution or closures, I think all of those factors entered into the final decision,” Stutes said.
Stutes says Richard did show some remorse for his crime. He says in the courtroom Richard apologized to the family and Bares’ wife.
“I believe they were genuine and well-intended, but certainly the circumstances of the killing itself, they were not an excuse but certainly an attempt, I think, at showing some remorse,” Stutes said.
Bares was 51-years-old and spent 12 years as a deputy with the Vermilion Parish Sheriff’s office.
A new law goes into effect on August 1 that expands the felony for assaults on police officers. West Monroe Senator Mike Walsworth says under the previous law, assaulting an officer with anything other than a gun was a misdemeanor. He says this new law expands that language to include the use of any weapon in the felony language, not just a firearm.
“Assault to a police officer is an assault. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s a shotgun, a rifle, a pistol, a knife. Whatever it may be, assault is assault,” Walsworth said.
Walsworth says the idea for this law came about when two police officers in Monroe were attacked by someone wielding an ax last year. He says we need to ensure that people who go after law enforcement are put behind bars.
“I would hope that no one assault a police officer because if you’ll assault a police officer, I can only imagine what you would do to a private citizen,” Walsworth said.
Beginning in August, the felony for assaulting an officer could land someone in jail for up to 10 years. Walsworth says this law means individuals who assault cops will receive consequences more in line with their actions.
“Hopefully it’ll allow our DA’s to go for a higher penalty if you use something else besides just a firearm," Walsworth said.
A brand new state-of-the-art breast imaging center, offering revolutionary hi-tech methods for breast cancer detection, is opening Thursday in Shreveport. Marilyn Joiner is the spokeswoman for the WK Breast Health Center. She says doctors there will use 3D technology which lets them do a mammogram and a biopsy at the same time.
"They'll have it read, and then report quickly to the patient so someone isn't waiting for days and days to get the results," said Joiner.
Joiner says the new center offers the northwest Louisiana region convenient hours for patients to come for screening exams before and after work. She says detecting breast cancer at its earliest stages makes treatment more effective.
"It's certainly a whole lot more comfortable for the person going through it in terms of what they are going to do in terms of care or surgery," said Joiner.
The American Cancer Society recommends that every woman over 40 be examined for breast cancer once a year. Joiner says they are very excited about this facility that is unlike any other in the region.
"Being a technologically oriented health system, we want to give doctors all the tools they need to take care of their patients," said Joiner.
Law enforcement around the state are mourning the death of 50-year-old Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Deputy David Michel Jr., who was fatally shot yesterday while attempting to conduct a pedestrian stop. The suspect is identified as 19-year-old Jerman Neveaux. JPSO Chief Deputy Craig Taffaro says it’s a sad day for those who knew Michel.
“He’s a great guy. He’s well-liked. It was quite obvious at the hospital how many friends he had,” Taffaro said.
Authorities say Michel was shot three times in the back after an altercation with a black male pedestrian. After the shooting he was rushed to a local hospital, where he died less than an hour later. Taffaro says he spoke with Michel’s father when he was driving in from Mississippi.
“His dad told me as difficult as this is, he was doing what he loved to do,” Taffaro said.
Michel worked in street crimes and had been with the sheriff’s office since 2007. Taffaro says he knew Michel well because the two worked in the 4th District at one time.
“He’s just one of those guys that was always cheerful,” Taffaro said.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand says this is a sad day.
"David, I wish I had a thousand of him," said a choked up Normand. "He was a great officer and the reason I know that is that he used to do this for free. He was a reserve officer for a long time."
There’s uncertainty involving next fiscal year’s budget as the second special session ends today. Lawmakers have approved legislation that raises tax revenues by $258 million. Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says there could be one more attempt to raise even more revenue, as the Edwards administration is pushing legislators to approve a bill that would reduce a tax break many upper income earners enjoy.
“There’s only one bill left, and it would raise anywhere from $60 to $110 million, which would be more in line with what governor wants,” Pinsonat said.
Pinsonat says it’s unlikely the House will go along with the attempt to reduce the excess itemize deduction that can be claimed on state income taxes. He says the governor’s level of success in this second special session will come down to this bill.
“It’s a big bill. It’ll determine whether the governor can claim a big success or a moderate success or basically didn’t do that well. So today, the last day, there’s a lot riding on it,” Pinsonat said.
Legislators also have to determine how to allocate the revenues that have been generated in this special session. Pinsonat says there are still questions over how much money lawmakers really have to work with.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty as the session ends. We still don’t know how much money will eventually come in based on the sales tax increase we just passed,” Pinsonat said.
The Ponchatoula-based company Elmer Chocolate cuts the ribbon on their new $40 million expansion today. Elmer president and CEO, Robert Nelson, says they are excited to open their expanded facility right here in the Bayou State.
“Our goal was to keep it right here, not only in the United States, but keep it here in Louisiana. So we figured out a way to do it, and we’re getting ready to open the most efficient boxed chocolate facility in the world,” Nelson said.
Elmer is best known for its Easter candy, but Nelson says that only accounts for 10% of their total sales. Nelson says the new facility will include technology to make the company more efficient. He says this is good news for Elmer’s employees.
“We can manufacture over 100,000 pounds a day, and this is the most efficient facility in the world. So the jobs that we have here are higher tech jobs offering more opportunity for our associates and the people in our community,” Nelson said.
The expansion is 70,000 feet, bringing the total plant to 400,000 square feet. Nelson says they will not make any new chocolates, but...
“All of our chocolates have been reformulated. All of them are now premium pieces. The system we have can make premium pieces very efficiently,” Nelson said.
President Obama signed a bill into law that puts regulations in place to make chemical plants safer. U.S. Senator David Vitter is a co-sponsor of the legislation and says this benefits Louisiana residents, because it creates a federal system to make sure chemicals are made safely based on the latest science.
“The trick was bringing everyone together to agree about how that should reasonably be done and we’ve finally done that.”
Vitter says the law gives a reasonable set of regulations with a single handbook that our companies can follow to remain a world leader in innovation. He says before this, states were developing their own inconsistent regulatory systems which wasn’t working.
“This part of our economy, chemical companies, those sorts of products, are not only an interstate commerce, they’re an international commerce so we needed a workable, reasonable federal system.”
Vitter says this law gives the EPA the tools they need to properly test chemical plants in a timely manner so the burdens placed on the manufacturers aren’t extreme. He says the chemical industry is in support of these new regulations.
“We need to make sure all of that is safe but we also need to make sure our companies continue to do that positive science and innovation to improve our lives and built good jobs in our economy.”
K-through-12 public schools will see a cut in state funding as a result of a spending plan approved by the Senate finance committee. The head of the Louisiana School Board Association, Scott Richard, says if schools receive fewer state dollars, it will jeopardize the successes that have taken place in public education.
"You've heard about the highest graduation rates of all time, you've heard about the most improved ACT scores, you've heard about improved reading scores," said Richard.
But on an 8-2 vote, the Senate Finance Committee decided to not to give public colleges a reduction in state dollars, instead K-12 public schools would be put on the chopping block.
Shreveport Senator Gregory Tarver says universities have been cut enough.
"Higher education in this state has been cut tremendously. 15 times. 15 times. We're not competitive around this country with other schools," said Tarver.
This spending proposal still has to be approved by the full Senate and House before the special session ends at midnight on Thursday.
Lake Charles Senator Ronnie Johns also supports the idea that public colleges shouldn’t be cut any further.
"You can graduate them from 12th grade, but if there's nowhere for them to go then what have we accomplished for those young people," asked Tarver.
The state Department of Transportation cancels plans to rehabilitate the Jimmy Davis Bridge over the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier and instead they decide to build a new four-lane bridge. DOTD spokesperson Cindy Dorfner says this new bridge will mean less congestion and an easier drive for commuters.
“It’s going to mean bigger capacity, which is awesome. That’s something that the rehabilitation project didn’t address at all, and so it kind of ignored the main problem, which was there just wasn’t enough capacity for people to get back and forth,” Dorfner said.
Dorfner says they aren’t sure at this point how much the new bridge will cost or when it will be complete. She says the old bridge will remain open during the construction. She says they have to get the design process started first.
“It’ll tell what it’s going to look like, where it’s going to go and how much it’s going to cost, and then a timeline for how long it’s going to take to build the bridge,” Dorfner said.
Dorfner says they would have spent at least 20-million dollars on rehabbing a 60-year-old bridge, but that would not address the problem of congestion, which is why they’ve made the decision to move forward with a new bridge.
“The legislators, local and state, got together and said ‘Hey, let’s think about this.’ Should we really go this route or should we look at what the people want and what the community needs and go with a four lane bridge,” Dorfner said.