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A Christmas light extravaganza is set to light up the night in Calhoun in Ouachita Parish. Candy Cane Lane opens Thanksgiving night and will take visitors on a magical on a mile long journey. Owner Ben Hanson says the planning has been underway for nearly a year.
 
 


"Between Christmas and New Year's we hit every department store, Walmart, home improvement outlets between Fort Worth and Jackson, Mississippi and we ended up with about 1.3 million lights."
 
Lights started to be strung on August 3rd and Hanson and his family have been working nonstop since looping lights around trees and plywood cutouts of characters, even constructing two light tunnels over 100 feet each. Hanson says this year is just a start and hopes to grow the attraction in the future.
 
"We hope to be able to offer hay rides, pictures with Santa, possibly have some food vendors come out.  Who knows, maybe even some live entertainment."

Hanson says the attraction will be so bright, travelers along I-20 will be able to see it. So how much electric does it take to power it?

"I've got 15 200-amp meters just to serve the park.  That's equivalent to 15 house meters."
 
They will be open Thursday through Sunday nights until December 21st, then will be open nightly through January 1st. 
 

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A state audit finds that the Louisiana Department of Health is not calculating Medicaid rates for nursing facilities accurately. Louisiana Legislative Office Director of Performance Audits Karen LeBlanc says they discovered 19.7 million dollars the state could have saved this past year was spent on patients not covered by Medicaid.
 
 
 
 

"Ideally, LDH should have gone and recouped that from them and made then not eligible." 
 
Medicaid payments to the 260 private nursing home facilities in Louisiana reached one-billion-dollars last year, yet nursing home populations went up less than one-percent. LeBlanc says better procedures are needed to ensure the nursing homes are compensated accurately. 
 
"They don't do full scope audits on all the nursing homes which will identify costs that shouldn't be included in the rates.  We recommended they expand the use of the those audits so they can identify those disallowed costs."
 
The number of nursing care residents have remained the same, yet Medicaid payments have increased over all by about one-billion-dollars in the last ten years. LeBlanc says she’s afraid nursing home rates and payments from Medicaid will continue to rise since an inflated rate methodology gets to stay in place.
 
"They got a constitutional amendment passed that locked in nursing home rates, they can never be reduced unless they get a two-thirds vote to get them reduced." 

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Today in Atlanta, the Georgia Dome was imploded after 25 years in existence. Meanwhile, the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans continues to be one of the top entertainment venues in the country.

Alan Freeman, General Manager of the Dome, says when the facility was built, the architects took a long range view of the stadium’s future.

“The marching orders that the architects and engineers were given were very far sighted. There’s a lot of things about the Superdome that clearly are very practical.”

Freeman also credits the success of the Superdome to the great relationship they have with the New Orleans Saints. He says the state owns the arena and provides the funds to keep up with improvements as the building ages, especially after Hurricane Katrina did major damage.

“The state came up with $85 million in upgrades to the building that really put us back on the forefront as far as buildings that are capable of hosting Super Bowls, Final Fours and WrestleMania.”

Freeman says the Superdome is a viable building and in a city that thrives on hosting major events. He says they have plans to make the facility bigger and better than it is now.

“We are in the process of working on the master plan that is going to require a sizable investment to keep this building where it is positioned today for the next 25 or 30 years.”

 
 

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A new study out of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University finds from 2001 to 2014, black students were twice as likely as white students to be suspended. Low income students were about 1.75 times more likely as non-low income students to be suspended.

Researcher Nathan Barrett says these numbers are troubling.

“I think it’s well established that these disparities exist, but what we’re adding is that they exist within schools and they exist within incidents.”

Barrett says they also found that punishments resulting from fights between a black student and white student are different.

“We found that on average, black students are suspended longer than white students in these interracial fights. It’s along the lines of for every 20 fights, it’s about a total of one day difference.”

Barret says it’s hard to determine if adults are intentionally punishing students differently. He says reducing discipline disparities based on race and income requires addressing both within-school and across school disparities.

“If we want to design sound policies, we need to tend to both what adults are doing within schools and what students are doing outside of school.”

 
 

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A well known north Louisiana chef was arrested after allegedly stalking a woman by calling and texting her 54 times. Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Glen Springfield says 35-year-old William Blake Phillips was asked several times to quit calling. However the woman claims Phillips went a step farther.">

"Mr. Phillips had shown up at the residence several times after being advised not to return and had in fact threatened the complainant."
 
After making contact with Phillips, Springfield says Phillips denied some of the allegations.
 
"We made contact with the subject and evidence indicated that had in fact did contacted her by text and phone calls roughly that number of times.  He did deny ever going to the residence."
 
Phillips was named the 2016 Louisiana Seafood King and has managed restaurants in the Monroe area. 
 

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There are plenty of reasons to be proud of the New Orleans Saints right now, and fans are loading up on black and gold gear more now than even before the season. That observation is from Pat Randazza with Purple and Gold Sports and Black and Gold Sports in Baton Rouge.


"It started off a little slow but it's picked up much better now, it's great," said Randazza. "With the talk of going to the playoffs heating up I expect it to keep on."

Randazza says her biggest seller with Saints fans is by far the jerseys. She says the hottest one right now, other than Drew Brees, is the Alvin Kamara #41 jersey. The running back, who is having a breakout rookie season with the Saints, recently told fans to go ahead and buy his #41 jersey because he’s not changing it.

"Kamara jerseys, that's the one thing that's so hot right now. We just got our shipment a couple of weeks ago," said Randazza. "Always Drew Brees. Those are always the hottest."

Randazza says the third most popular jersey is running back Mark Ingram’s which she said spiked big time mid-season.

She also expects a busy holiday season and now is about the time shoppers are coming in to buy gifts for their fellow sports maniac friends.

"Things for your automobile are huge for Saints," said Randazza. "That's always a popular one for gifting."
 
 
 
 

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High school students who are in good standing with the FFA now have an opportunity to get a $500 scholarship to attend a community college. Louisiana Community and Technical College System President Monty Sullivan says they hope this will help convince more students to continue their education past high school.


"One of the things we've recognized over the years is that we have about 40,000 students who graduate high school every year in Louisiana.  About 10,000 of those don't register for secondary education of any kind."
 
Sullivan says they have made it easy for students to apply for the scholarship by eliminating unnecessary paperwork.
 
Students very simply make application to a community or technical college and indicate they are a member in good standing or graduated as a member in good standing and automatically gets the award."

Sullivan says this is the first time they have entered into a partnership with an organization to provide scholarships, but it is generating a lot of excitement.

"Lots of students, parents, counselors, principals, superintendents, folks just asking questions on how they can become involved." 
 

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You will see a slight savings this year on Thanksgiving dinner. An American Farm Bureau Marketbasket survey estimates it will cost $43.27 on average in Louisiana. Farm Bureau Federation News Director Neil Melancon says a large inventory of turkeys are helping to drive prices down.
 
"Turkey producers went into overdrive last year.  Poultry was doing pretty well and just built up a stockpile of surplus.  Especially here the week before Thanksgiving, they're trying to move the stuff out."

That is over three-dollars cheaper than 2016 for a 16-item meal including turkey and all the trimmings. Melancon says since turkey prices are very low right now, he recommends to shop around and compare.

"99 cents, 80 cents per pound is what we found and there's a lot of discounts out there.  Do shop around if you're not seeing it in the 13-dollar range." 
 
Melancon says we are paying less for other items, some which are grown locally.
 
"We produce a lot of sweet potatoes.  The national average price for yams is $3.60.  Here in Louisiana it's $2.94."

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Now that Republican John Schroder has been elected as Louisiana’s new State Treasurer, he says he wants to improve the way the state handles finances in a struggling economy. Schroder hopes to work with the state legislature and Governor Edwards to balance the budget and spend responsibly.


“The treasurer, who is the banker for the state, can assist in many ways. Although he doesn’t get a vote, he can assist in many ways dealing with the policies for the finances of Louisiana.”
 
Schroder says government has become a burden and the state’s infrastructure has become unaffordable. He plans to stay a budget hawk, as he’s been since he was elected as a state representative 10 years ago.

“Quite frankly, I don’t believe the citizens of Louisiana want to pay more taxes and I think we’re honestly going to have some very difficult decisions to make but it’s things that are going to have to get done.”
 
Schroder also hopes to reform the process on how the state picks construction projects for funding and take the politics out of it. He also plans to educate the public on the state budget, so taxpayers know how their money is spent.

“Transparency and accountability is incredible and that needs to improve in our state. I’ve worked there, I’ve seen it, I understand it. It does cost money to do that but I think it’s worth the expense.”
 
 

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New data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics shows Louisiana’s unemployment rate for October was 4.8% the lowest it’s been since June of 2008.

Louisiana Workforce Commission Executive Director Ava Dejoie says this is the sixth consecutive month the rate has declined. She says we’ve had four industry super sectors that have reached all-time record highs this year.

“The education and healthcare super sector, construction, as well as, leisure and hospitality and a smaller sector comprised mostly of industries engaged in equipment and machinery repair.”

Dejoie says the announcement that DXC will open up in New Orleans will only help this number continue to decrease. She credits many programs to helping those unemployed in the Bayou State find work.

“We’re constantly working through our local offices to place individuals to provide skills upgrading. We have a number of apprenticeship programs going on, particularly in the healthcare sector.”

Professional and Business Services gained nearly 5,000 jobs for the month and Education and Health Services gained 400 jobs. Dejoie says oil and gas is still struggling in the state but they are working to transfer employees in that industry into other fields. She says Lake Charles continues to grow the most in the state with job opportunities.

“With all of the different refineries, processing, chemical manufacturers in that area that are expanding and also with the people they have retiring, there is continued momentum in that area.”

 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards announces a plan to upgrade high speed internet connectivity to 164,000 students in K-12 public schools. Education Policy Advisor for the Governor Donald Songy says these kids have broadband in their schools but it’s slow.

“Most of them have adequate bandwidth and speed. There are just a few districts, about 7 or 8 districts, that we’d like to help to get up to that minimum speed.”

88% of school districts are meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s recommended minimum connectivity required for students to take advantage of digital learning. Songy says the state will partner with the non-profit EducationSuperHighway to help improve internet services for schools lagging behind. He says they are identifying which schools need additional help.

“To work with the local school districts to leverage funds to make sure that they’re getting all of the E-Rate funding that they’re entitled to. They even provide technical help like setting up networks.”

90% of high speed internet costs are paid for by grant money but Songy says the struggle for many schools is finding the funding for that last 10%. He says these last few school districts are working hard to receive this level of broadband and sometimes just need a little extra technical support.

“The technical expertise can come from a group like EducationSuperHighway to help them to do the E-Rate application, to set up the networks, to leverage all the funding that they have.”

 
 

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A south Louisiana restaurant will get national attention this weekend on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise.” Boudreau and Thibodeau’s Cajun Cookin’ in Houma will be one of the segments on the show. Owner Debra Blanchard says a producer has local ties to Houma and thought it make for a great feature.
 
 
"One of the executive producer's mother used to live in Houma.  He really wanted to get back to his roots and his family's roots.  He did some research and found out we're a fun place to visit and a great place to eat."
 
She calls it an honor to be chosen for the show. They have been in business for nearly 20 years. Blanchard says the combination of good food and fun is the secret to their longevity. 
 
"Learning, trying new things and keeping to the cajun roots.  Etouffees, jambayala and stuff that people grew up on."
 
Blanchard says when it came time to name the restaurant. She explains it comes from a long time tradition throughout south Louisiana. 
 
"The Boudreau and Thibodeau cajun jokes.  We have plenty of Boudreau and Thibodeau jokes on the walls."
 
The show will air Sunday at 7pm on the Travel Channel.
 
 

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The state is launching a Louisiana Cultural Shopping Trail to provide visitors an opportunity to discover unique retail stores as they travel through the Bayou State. Chairman of the Louisiana Tax Free Shopping Commission Steve Windham says L-A-shopping-trail-dot-com will highlight great antique or boutique shops, along with stores that feature hand-crafted goods.
 


"The ones that are small business operated, by mom and pop family operations, that could range from a Tobasco shop to the shops along the main street."
 
Windham says the Louisiana Cultural Shopping Trail gives specialized businesses off the beaten path a chance to showcase the state’s vibrant culture to visitors who are traveling our highways.
 
"It's a way to encourage them to see more of what Louisiana is like and the things we have to offer as a cultural destination."
 
Windham says Louisiana residents are encouraged to visit the over 100 stores that make up the Louisiana Cultural Shopping Trail, which winds throughout the state, but the main goal is to encourage out of state travelers to shop at these unique retailers.
 
"In order to build and grow any economy, what you want to do is bring in wealth from the outside.  You don't want to shuffle it from one pocket to another."
 
 

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The election for the New Orleans mayoral race is tomorrow and polls show Democratic councilwoman LaToya Cantrell beating fellow Democrat and former judge Desiree Charbonnet by a landslide. Political Analyst Clancy Dubos says Charbonnet has raised nearly twice as much money as her opponent but Cantrell has spent her money more wisely.

“She invested in voter identification where she went out and worked the precincts, she spent more than a year going to community meetings and building a grassroots network, identifying who her voters were.”

Dubos says Cantrell’s campaign was very much rooted in social media. He says Charbonnet began the race as the frontrunner but recent attacks weakened her considerably.

“After the attacks, she was somewhat lucky to make it into the runoff. Even though she had some good ammunition to use against Cantrell, the voters just tuned her out.”

This will be the first time a female has been mayor of New Orleans. Dubos says this big race with two Democratic candidates is likely to help out Democrat Derrick Edwards’ campaign for State Treasurer against Republican John Schroder.

“Schroder is certainly a favorite but the big turnout in New Orleans, which is a heavily Democratic city with a lot of voters, will probably make it closer than it otherwise would’ve been.”

 
 

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Secretary of State Tom Schedler is expecting a voter turnout of 13 percent statewide for Saturday’s election which features the race for state treasurer and the New Orleans mayoral runoff between LaToya Cantrell and Desiree Charbonnet. Schedler says if it wasn’t for this race, it would be a slow day at the polls.



 
 

"Without the driver of Orleans Parish, it bumps us up to 13.  If we didn't have that mayoral election with the open mayor's seat with council seats, quite frankly we would be talking single digits."

 
Voter turnout for the October statewide election was 14-percent. Schedler says he initially thought that turnout for the November election would be even lower but early voting turnout was better than expected.
 
"Of course I want to put everything in perspective.  When you start talking at the high side 13 percent, that's not anything I'm proud of."

Schedler says the treasurer race between Democrat Derrick Edwards and Republican John Schroder is the only item on the ballot in half of the state’s parishes.

"My home parish of residency St. Tammany has only the treasurer's race and we have 32 of those parishes across the state."

About 400-thousand are expected to vote in Saturday’s election.

 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting. 
Tickets are on sale now for WrestleMania 34, which takes place April 8th at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The last time WWE's flagship show came to The Big Easy was in 2014, bringing in over 75,000 fans and generating $142 million dollars in economic impact.

WWE superstar Big Show did a media tour in south Louisiana this week to promote WrestleMania 34.

"If you've never been, where have you been? I mean this is a spectacle of all spectacles," said Big Show.

Fans from all 50 states and 36 countries attended WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans. Big Show says you can expect more of the same next year.

"It will influx Louisiana, which is going to bring in a lot of money," said Big Show. "And that's good because we like people to come in and spend money then leave."

This is the quickest that Wrestlemania has ever returned to a previous host city ever. Big Show encourages locals to go, even if they aren't wrestling fans, because there's really nothing like it.

"The lights, the smoke, the pyro, the entrance music," said Big Show. "These are celebrities and athletes vying for one of the most coveted prizes in our history."
 
 
 

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The U.S. House approved the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which Republicans say will lower tax rates at all income levels and lower the corporate tax rate.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise says too many companies are moving overseas to do business because it’s too expensive in the U.S. He adds this legislation will make it easier for everyday Americans to do their own taxes.

“Over 90% of American families will actually be able to do their taxes on a post card. Just think of how much that’s going to save for people who have to pay to have their taxes done because the code is so complicated.”

The Senate still must vote on its own version of a tax reform plan and if that passes then it must be settled in a conference committee. Scalise says under the House bill, everyone at every income level will see a tax break. He says they have also doubled the standard deduction, which will be a big win for struggling families, as well as….

“We eliminate special interest loopholes. The problem is every time somebody gets a special interest loophole, it costs the rest of us. Now we get rid of those loopholes so that everybody can pay less in taxes.”

Middle class families in Louisiana are predicted to see a raise in after-tax income of $1,857, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The only House member from Louisiana to vote against the measure was Democrat Cedric Richmond. Scalise says this bill also repeals the death tax. He says this bill is about getting our economy moving again and creating jobs.

“It allows the economic growth that’s going to see wages finally increase after 10 years of a stagnant economy. It’s about time we finally answer the call that millions of Americans have been asking us to do for so long.”

 
 
 

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Nicholls State University has named Jay Clune as the university’s 6th president. Clune has served as interim graduate dean for the University of West Florida. He is a Nicholls graduate and native of nearby Homua. He will take over after the first of 2018. Clune says he wants students coming to Nicholls to learn in a modern environment.

 
 
"I think in this age of technology and innovation, we need to take another look and see if we can expand that a bit and add some programs."
 
For the past nine years, legislators have cut higher education budgets, trimming some 150-million-dollars over that period of time – 39-million-dollars for just Nicholls. Clune says he knows of other ways to raise money. 
 
"We're also going to look at public private partnerships.  Businesses and industries who come in who help get programs started, who help to underwrite some of the instructional costs."
 
Clune says he knows there are issues at the school, but wants to tackle them head on. 
 
"We're coming in with what we see as great potential.  There are some student issues that we're going to work through. And I want to hear from students as to what's important to them.  And I want to hear from faculty and staff."

He will begin his new positon after the first of the year.

 

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Natchitoches unveils its newly renovated rue Beauport Riverfront tonight. The riverfront has undergone a four million dollar restoration. Mayor Lee Posey says they’ve added a new festival stage, amphitheater seating and a new Santa Claus house. He says restrooms and handicap ramps have also been added along the Cane River.

“We think it’s a game changer on our riverbank. Everybody is loving it. We have the grand opening of it tonight and this weekend, people will be able to enjoy it with our Turn on the Lights weekend.”

The dedication comes as the 91st Christmas Festival of Lights is set to begin this Saturday in downtown Natchitoches with the official lighting ceremony starting at 6:30 p.m. Posey says the riverbank was torn up until about a month ago with the renovations. He says once sod was laid down, everything started to come together.

“Everybody is talking about it, how great it looks. We think it’s going to be one of those wow factors for our downtown riverbank. Come experience Natchitoches, it’s another piece of the puzzle that we think is even going to make it better.”

Posey says the Festival of Lights takes place throughout seven weekends. He says tonight’s dedication is free to the public.

“We’re just really excited, we invite everyone to come because we think you’re going to love it. It’s very family oriented. Then Christmas Festival weekend with a parade, the first weekend of December always, that’s going to be a huge day.”

 
 

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Baton Rouge Police have arrested a man in the 2014 killing of West St. John High School coach Juan Joseph. Sgt. Don Coppola says they had originally booked another man for the murder, but those charges were later dropped after the DA's office said the shooter was misidentified. Coppola says now Jamarcus Goodman is charged with second degree murder.


"They were able to link him through DNA evidence," said Coppola.

Coppola says they believe Goodman was a passenger in a vehicle that had intentionally fired a weapon which struck and killed Joseph. He says investigators had been on the case exactly three years before they caught up with Goodman.
 
The murder happened on November 16th, 2014. 
 
 
 

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