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In the first of a series of questions to the four major gubernatorial candidates, Louisiana Radio Network asks about the state's budget problems. We asked each candidate if they were Governor today, how would they handle the $1.6 billion dollar deficit? Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle says he'd cut every dime of wasteful spending.


"Wasteful contracts, programs and positions that are not critical should be cut and that money needs to be used for higher education and healthcare," says Angelle.

Republican Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne says he'd curtail tax exemptions and refundable credits, cap the film tax credit program and raise the cigarette tax. But Dardenne says if he were Governor there wouldn't be this giant deficit.

"We've got to separate our wants from our needs by setting priorities and funding the most critical areas of state government first," said Dardenne. "For me those start with education, transportation and keeping our economy strong."

Democratic Representative John Bel Edwards says he would reduce or eliminate tax giveaways that cost too much or produce too little return on investment. He says he would also accept federal tax dollars back into Louisiana to help us meet obligations for the people of Louisiana.

"We need to expand Medicaid," said Edwards. "It would bring in $16 billion dollars over 10 years and it would save $52 million dollars this year alone. That's money we can use."

Republican US Senator David Vitter says if he is elected, he would immediately call a special legislative session on spending and tax reform.

"We need to put everything on the table and get down to basics," said Vitter. "We're not doing that now under Governor Jindal and we need to do that immediately in the new governor's term."


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As motorists begin hitting the road for the Memorial Day weekend, Gasbuddy-dot-com says they'll see the lowest gas prices since 2009.  Senior Petroleum Analyst Gregg Laskoski says the current average price for a gallon of regular gasoline in Louisiana is $2.45 a gallon.


"That's 95-cents less than what we were paying a year ago.  We were at $3.40 just a year ago."

Laskoski says many are considering an additional road trip this summer because of the price at the pump.  He says while gas prices have gone up about 21-cents a gallon in the past month, prices are still almost a dollar less than we paid a year ago.  Laskoski says the price hike is not totally unexpected.

"Because we have seen crude oil prices go up and we also know we're moving closer to the summer driving season."

But, he doesn't think there will be a huge increase in gas prices this summer.  Laskoski says there is still a really significant inventory of gasoline and that's good news for motorists.

"Anybody who's traveling this summer, they can be relieved to know that the prices at the pump are going to be about a dollar less than what they paid last year."

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LSU took advantage of six errors from the Arkansas Razorbacks to post a 10-5 victory on Thursday night in Hoover, Alabama. Three of the errors came in the 1st inning as the Tigers scored 4 runs to begin the ball game. LSU added two more runs in the 2nd, 4th and 7th innings.


The Tigers had eleven hits on the night. Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson each had two hits and drove in a run. Alex Bregman had just one hit, but drove in 3 runs and now has 47 RBIs on the season. 
 
For the second straight night, LSU got a short outing from its starting pitcher. Jared Poche threw only one inning on Wednesday, while Austin Bain couldn't get past the 2nd inning against the Razorbacks. Arkansas touched up Bain for four runs in the 2nd inning.
 
But sophomore right-hander Russell Reynolds (6-0) came out of the bullpen and held Arkansas down. The Baton Rouge native threw 3.1 innings of shutout baseball and struck out three and he was credited with the win.
 
Jesse Stallings threw a scoreless inning of relief, Alden Cartwright gave up one run in the 8th inning and Zac Person tossed a scoreless 9th.
 
LSU is now 48-9 on the season. They will play again on Saturday afternoon in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The Tigers will face the winner of Friday's game between Florida and Arkansas.  

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On a 65-37 vote, the state House approved a 24-billion dollar budget for next fiscal year, sending the spending plan to the senate. House Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin says the budget process started with a 1.6 billion dollar shortfall, but they covered much of that gap, by passing revenue generating bills, recognizing additional dollars thanks to an improved revenue forecast and other financing.


"With this 850-million of total revenue created, we can fully fund higher education, health care, debt service and MFP (public schools)."
 
As it stands now, the budget reduces funding for LSU's medical schols in New Orleans and Shreveport and the state's public-private hospital partnerships are also underfunded. Fannin says some agencies will also face cuts. 
 
'There will still be cuts in the budget, but these cuts will be reduced and we will have funded our highest priority."
 
A politically charged amendment was added to the budget during the debate. The measure would require the governor's office and not State Police to pay for troopers, when Jindal makes out-of-state campaign trips. Monroe Representative Katrina Jackson is in full support. 
 
"We do not have money in our state to pay for our State Police to travel back and forth to Iowa and every where else for campaign purposes for one person," Jackson said. 
 
The amendment passed on a 55-35 vote, but could be removed by the Senate or Jindal can use his line-item veto power on the legislation. 
 
 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The Metropolitan Crime Commission has asked the state Attorney General's office to investigate the sentence of the Destrehan High School teacher who had sex with one of her students. Shelley Dufresene admitted to the act in exchange for no jail time and not having to register as a sex offender. Legal analyst Tim Meche says the MCC President should know better than to call for this investigation.


"The Attorney General lacks the constitutional authority to conduct investigations of anybody without a request from the DA," said Meche.

Dufresne was originally charged with felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile but pleaded down to a misdemeanor obscenity charge as part of the deal. The MCC wants the AG's office to look into whether St. Charles Parish DA Joel Chaisson committed any criminal violations with regards to the plea. 

Meche says if the MCC believes a criminal act occurred they should report it to federal authorities.

"But asking the Attorney General to investigate a District Attorney is not permitted under our Louisiana constitution," said Meche.

Dufresne is the daughter of a sitting judge in the 29th District and the entire bench recused themselves in the matter but Chaisson did not. There are many people who say Dufresne got off easy and if the teacher would have been male and the student female then the outcome would have been much different.

Meche says people are entitled to their opinion but this move is a classic case of political grandstanding.

"And the fact that he released it to the public makes me question their sincerity," says Meche.
 
 
 

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Governor Bobby Jindal's religious freedom executive order is receiving strong criticism from democrats. The leader of the state democratic party, state Senator Karen Peterson, says she can't believe Jindal would issue the order, when the tourism industry expressed that the measure could alienate visitors or chase away convention business.

"He doesn't care about Louisiana's economy nor does he care about the people that we represent," Peterson said.
 
LSU grad and prominent Democratic Party figure, James Carville, appeared on the Jim Engster Show and said he wishes the governor would focus on bigger issues impacting the state. 
 
"I wish he had the same conviction when it came to higher ed, then this Indiana-style legislation that's going to do nothing but economically cripple the state," Carville said.
 
But Jindal is not apologizing for the religious freedom order. The governor says it re-affirms our first amendment rights.
 
"The first amendment to the Constitution says that Louisianians, Americans have the right to live according to religious beliefs, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without discrimination." 
 
Jindal's controversial order prevents the executive branch of state government from taking adverse action against a person or a business for their belief in traditional marriage. He disputes the accusation that his order will hurt the state's economy.
 
"In Louisiana we are for freedom, and that means economic freedom and that means 1st Amendment religious liberty freedom rights as well."  
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The teacher who was arrested in Iberville Parish for allegedly having sex with three of his students, apparently fathered a child of one of the victim's when she was 15-years-old. 30-year-old Keavin Keith was arrested Monday on 30 counts of prohibited sex with a student. Sheriff Brett Stassi says one of the victim's claims Keith got her pregnant.


"And we are waiting on DNA and paternity results," said Stassi. "But yes that has been alleged by the victim."

Keith was also charged with two counts of indecent behavior with juveniles and five counts of felony carnal knowledge.

Stassi says at least one other victim told detectives that she engaged in oral sex with Keith inside his classroom at Iberville's Math, Science and Arts Academy-West in Plaquemine. He says this is an unfortunate case.

"This isn't just a one day thing. This is going to affect this person's life for the rest of his life," said Stassi.

Stassi says they got a statement from Keith when he was arrested and he admitted to investigators that he'd had sex with the students. He says they've been getting reaction from the community on both sides of this case.

"Teachers should be held to a higher standard but we've also had people tell us that he's a very good teacher in class," said Stassi.

Keith was named teacher of the year in 2013.

 
 

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State Police say a fire at their data center has left Office of Motor Vehicles offices across the state unable process any transactions.  Major Doug Cain says an electrical panel fire has disabled all automated systems at the Department of Public Safety, including OMV locations statewide.


"You're not going to be able to do any transactions within the Office of Motor Vehicles at all, online or any of the offices."

He says workers are staying on site at the offices in hopes that the situation can be resolved.  As of now, all they can do is turn people away.  Cain says they hope to get everything up and going later today.  Trooper patrols will continue, but Cain says this fire has brought the Department of Public Safety to a virtual standstill.

"Every system within the Department of Public Safety is down, except for the radio system our troopers use." 

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The American Automobile Association expects more Americans to travel this Memorial Day weekend than they have in the last 10 years.  Spokesman Don Redman says they predict a 5-percent increase from last year in people who will travel for the holiday weekend.


"We certainly are expecting a very busy holiday.  More than 37 million people will be traveling 50 miles or more from home and, of course, a vast majority of those will traveling by car."

Redman says if you plan to travel by car this weekend, you can expect to share the road with a lot of people.

"Almost 90-percent of everyone who's going to be traveling will be traveling by car, so it's going to be very busy."

It's expected that about 33-million people will be traveling by car.  Most drivers can expect to pay the lowest Memorial Day gas prices in five years.  Redman says you can attribute much of the increase in travelers to the fact that people are feeling more confident about the economy because of the drop in gas prices.

"Families are getting a break at the pump and have been for several months.  That's really helped the family economy and I think that's why we're seeing a big number of people traveling this holiday."   

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The United Health Foundation ranks Louisiana 50th in the nation for Senior Health. That's last according to the Annual America's Health Rankings 2015 Senior Report. Katherine Palmier is the Chief Medical Officer for the East Region of United Health Care. She says among the challenges in Louisiana is a low percentage of dental visits.


"People with poor dental hygiene also have higher rates of illnesses like heart disease, because the inflammation in a poorly cared for mouth can cause inflammation in the rest of the body," said Palmier.

While Louisiana is ranked as the least healthy state for older adults, Mississippi is Number 49 this year then Kentucky, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Palmier says in Louisiana there is a high percentage of nursing home residents that are not receiving proper care. She also says a lot of Louisiana seniors struggle with food insecurity which means they wonder if they are going to have enough money to pay for their next meal.

"Or are they having trouble getting to the grocery store or obtaining fresh food," said Palmier. "All those things go into food insecurity."

To develop this report, a panel of experts in senior health was charged with identifying the areas of health and well-being most pertinent to the older adult population.

In 2014 Louisiana was ranked 49th. She says despite the low ranking, Louisiana does have some positives like a high flu vaccination rate, low prevalence of falls and great home health.

 

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The number one ranked LSU baseball team rallied back from a five-run deficit to beat Auburn 9-8 on Wednesday night in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers exploded for six runs in the 5th inning to take a 9-8 lead and that score held up the rest of the way.


The game got off to a very bad start for the Tigers as sophomore left-hander Jared Poche was lit up for five runs in the 1st inning, but only two of the runs were earned as a throwing error by Chris Chinea and two walks by Poche paved the way for a big inning. 
 
LSU scored 3 runs in the 2nd inning to get back in the game. Chris Sciambra hit an RBI double and Jared Foster had a 2-run home run.
 
Auburn regained its five-run lead by scoring two runs against relief pitcher Jake Godfrey and a single run off of Doug Norman.
 
But that set up LSU's dramatic come back.
 
The six-run 5th inning started with a double by Foster. He scored on a Jake Fraley single. Conner Hale then delivered a two-run single to make it 8-6. The next hitter up, Kade Scivicque. hit one off the center field wall for an RBI double.
 
Andrew Stevenson grounded out for the second out of the inning. It looked like Auburn would get out of the inning with a lead, when Chris Chinea hit a pop fly to right fielder Damon Haecker, but Haecker lost the ball in the dusk and Scivicique scored. Sciambra then came up with an RBI single to drive in the eventual winning run.
 
Hale, Sciambra and Foster each drove in two runs as every Tiger in LSU's line-up except Mark Laird had at least one hit.
 
Norman was credited with the win. Parker Bugg pitched a scoreless 9th to get the save. And Zac Person was very impressive out of the bullpen as he struck out 3 in 1.1. innings pitched.
 
LSU advances to the winner's bracket, where they'll play on Thursday night at around 8 PM.  
 
 
 
 

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Legislation by Hammond Representative Chris Broadwater that would allow state colleges to raise fees for students passes the state House.  Gonzales Representative Eddie Lambert wanted assurance from Broadwater that this measure would not affect tuition.


Rep. Lambert:  "Representative Broadwater, this deals strictly with fees.."

Rep. Broadwater:  "Strictly with fees, has no impact on TOPS, whatsoever."

Broadwater says his measure would only make it easier for colleges to raise student fees, within certain limits, and not affect TOPS in any way.  He says a percentage of the revenues generated from additional fees would be set aside for needs based assistance.

"Some of this money will be used to go for financial assistance for those students so we don't create an access to education problem."

Broadwater says those concerned that increased fees would create a drop in enrollment should look at the bigger picture.

"If we don't do a better job with our state support of higher education, we're going to have an access to education problem because the schools will close and they won't have a school to go to.  That's a worse access to education problem than we'll have under this."

The legislation passed on a 79-14 vote and moves to the Senate. 

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New Orleans has been invited to bid to host the 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls.  The Big Easy last hosted the Super Bowl in 2013.  Jay Cicero, President of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, says four other cities also received invitations.


"Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, and we just found out Los Angeles, if they are able to get a plan together for their stadium, they're invited to bid on 2020."

New Orleans lost out on hosting the 2018 Super Bowl to Minneapolis and their new stadium last year.  Cicero says with new stadiums proposed for Atlanta and Los Angeles, the competition will be stiff.

"It's going to be our job to put together an aggressive bid and, hopefully, put ourselves in position to win one of those Super Bowls."

Los Angeles was invited to bid on the 2020 Super Bowl if a stadium is in place and a team has moved there by the start of the 2018 season.  The bids will to to a vote of team owners next May.  Cicero feels the Crescent City has an edge on the other cities vying to host the Super Bowl.

"The fact we've got 20,000 hotel rooms within walking distance from the Superdome and the Convention Center, as well as the French Quarter, all those things put into place really give us a competitive advantage." 

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The Louisiana Black Bear population has reached a point in its recovery that the federal government recommends the removal of the animal from the threatened species list. Governor Bobby Jindal says it took over 20-years of collaborative research and recovery efforts to get to this point.


"The state has worked with federal and local wildlife authorities, private landowners and others," Jindal said. "They've worked tirelessly to implement several measures to help protect and restore many of the black bears key habitats." 
 
Jindal says the state has spent more than 900-thousand dollars to help restoration of the black bear population. Deputy Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Steve Guertin, is glad efforts to save the iconic "Teddy Bear" have paid off. 
 
"I'm also grateful that my children will have more than a stuff animal to remember this natural resource," Guertin said.
 
It will likely take a year before the bear is delisted, as federal officials must gather public input on the recommendation. Once that process is completed, it could open the door for regulated hunting of the black bear. But state department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham says that's not happening anytime soon. 
 
"We've developed management plan and when populations warrant it, sometime in the future hunting would be included as a possibility, but don't buy a rifle."
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announces results of a study which shows the Deepwater Horizon oil spill contributed to a high number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico.


"We found that dolphins dying after the oil spill, had distinct adrenal glad and lung lesions that were not present in the stranded dolphins from other areas," said Dr. Kathleen Colegrove, the study's lead veterinary pathologist.

Colegrove says one in three dolphins found dead in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama had a thin adrenal gland cortex which leads to adrenal insufficiency.

She says when just looking at dolphins from Barataria Bay, one of the most heavily oiled coastal areas, half of them had the otherwise rare adrenal lesion.

"This prevalence was significantly higher than in the referenced population in which one in 10 had this lesion," said Colegrove.

Colegrove says dolphins dying after the spill had distinct problems not present in stranded dolphins from areas outside the northern Gulf. She says another problem they found in the spill areas in stranded dolphins was lung disease.

"These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions that I have ever seen in wild dolphins from throughout the US," said Colegrove.

NOAA says these studies point to the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons as being the most significant cause of the illnesses and deaths plaguing the Gulf's dolphin population. 
 
 

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A Senate bill that will likely result in future TOPS students having to pay a portion of their tuition clears the House Education Committee.  The governor's office opposes Mandeville Senator Jack Donahue's legislation.  


Stafford Palmieri, Jindal's Assistant Chief of Staff, says Louisiana has made the promise that TOPS students will have their tuition fully paid.
 
"We'd be breaking that promise to those students who, not next fall but the fall after that, see their tuition go up and see TOPS not keep up with that tuition increase."

Under Donahue's bill, the TOPS award will match 2016-17 tuition levels but the award will not automatically go up when tuition rises.  Donahue says TOPS is unsustainable in its current form and this baseline will ensure its survival.

"We want to put something in place to make sure it's going to be their for our grandkids, their kids, and their kids after."

Palmieri admits that the cost of the TOPS program has increased every year since 2008, but says this is a good investment in the state's higher education system.

"Because TOPS increases not only the level of high school preparation, it raises ACT scores, it increases the liklihood of staying in college, and it increases the liklihood of finishing college."

Donahue says controls need to be put in place to regulate the costs of TOPS so the program can endure for future generations of students.  He doesn't think passage of this bill will damage the program.

"We will continue to have the best scholarship program in the country, but if we continue to let it go like it's going, I don't believe that we'll be able to do that."
 
The measure will now be debated on the House floor. 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a recent survey by the LSU Public Policy Research lab, voters in Louisiana are still not tuned in to the upcoming Governor's race. The numbers show only 25% of people here are following news about the election. PPRL Director Dr. Michael Henderson says voters ages 18-29 are paying the least amount of attention.

"It's not surprising as that section of voters tends to pay less attention and be less involved in politics to begin with," said Henderson.

Henderson says they also found that 38% of voters say they are satisfied with the current slate of candidates running for governor in the October 24 election. He says even only about 1 and 3 older voters seem to be engaged but feels it will likely change late summer/early fall.

"As we get closer to the election, we'll see more ads, see the election date coming closer and those numbers will go up," said Henderson.

Henderson says Scott Angelle is the candidate fewest voters are familiar with at 83% followed by John Bel Edwards at 76% then Jay Dardenne at 60% -- but only 28% of people said they didn't know who David Vitter is. He says all four candidates have favorable ratings among people in the know.

"They all have more people saying that they like them than saying that they don't like them."
 
 


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Today, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will make an important announcement at the Governor's Mansion regarding the Louisiana black bear.  It is expected that the black bear will be officially removed from the threatened species list.  


Secretary Robert Barham says the black bear was put on the threatened list nearly 25 years ago.
 
"At one time we were down to less than a hundred bear and now there are hundreds of bear in Louisiana.  We believe they're in great shape and we hope that that will be recognized."

Barham says LDWF has a long history of rehabilitating animal populations, including the American alligator, the brown pelican, and the bald eagle.  He says the resurgence in the black bear population is a tribute to the biologists and everyone with the department.

"They did the work and it is a tremendous amount of work to ensure a that species will be here for generations to come."

The Louisiana black bear is the the inspiration for the Teddy Bear, the popular children's toy.  The stuffed animal was created after a hunting trip in the area by then President Teddy Roosevelt.   Roosevelt's great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV, will be on hand for the announcement.

"He's coming down to participate in a great event and commemorating the hunt his great-grandfather made when he was president." 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
A House bill that would allow elementary school students to be taught gun safety is headed to the Senate. The legislation is by Baton Rouge Representative Blake Miguez who says firearm accident prevention and safety would be something kids should learn at a young age.

"It's very similar to other dangers, like stranger danger, or electricity safety or fire safety," said Miguez.

Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton doesn't think that young kids should be learning anything about guns. She says firearm safety education should be left up to parents if they so choose to teach their kids about guns.

"There any many parents who don't even allow their children to touch a gun or even see a gun," said Norton.

The measure passed on a 93-3 vote. 

Hammond Representative Chris Broadwater says he supports the measure because very often parents are not teaching their children proper safety measures when it comes to things like guns.

"If we aren't teaching things in the home, and we're providing an opportunity to try to stop the needless loss of life because something that is inherently good, when used inappropriately takes that life," said Broadwater. "Then we need to support that and provide that education."
 
 

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Governor Bobby Jindal issues an executive order that would have the same effect as a so called "religious freedom" bill that failed to pass out of a House committee on Tuesday. U-L Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says there is irony in this move. 
 
"The governor has been a critic of (President) Barack Obama for using executive authority on what he couldn't get through the Congress and now in fact Bobby Jindal seems to be doing exactly the same thing in Louisiana." 
 
Jindal says his executive order prevents the executive branch of state government from taking adverse action against people, charities and family owned businesses who have deep religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. Cross predicts there will be a lawsuit. 
 
"The executive order won't have the same weight as the state law, but this a topic that's expected to litigated anyways," Cross said.
 
Passing a religious liberty bill was a priority for Governor Jindal in this legislative session. Cross says it’s not a surprise that lawmakers didn’t bend over backwards to get this law passed. 
 
"He's put them into a bind, they're having to make the really hard decisions, while he prepares his Presidential run, as a result they are not willing to go a long with him on anything that he likes."  

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