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New Orleans Representative Austin Badon's bill to reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession will be heard on the House floor. Jill Trahan's son is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for simple marijuana possession.

Trahan wants lawmakers to really consider the penalties imposed on marijuana possession convictions.
 
"I'm grateful that he had five years, he's done seven already, but I think 15 is exaggerated and strong."

The measure passed the House Criminal Justice Committee on a 10-4 vote.  Livingston Representative Sherman Mack questioned the need for Badon's bill since judges and district attorneys already have the ability to shorten a sentence for simple marijuana possession.

Mack stated, "You don't have to send these people to jail, that's up to the judge and/or the DA how he builds the charge."  Badon said, "We didn't want to eliminate their discretion."  Mack responded, "You're limiting it, though."  Badon replied, "We're reducing the amount of time that someone could possibly get."

Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Marjorie Esman voiced her opposition to Badon's measure saying this bill doesn't do enough.

"This bill will do nothing for the woman who testified, and I'm sorry if I don't remember her name,  the one who just talked about her son in Angola.  He's doing 15-years.  This won't help him because it's not retroactive." 

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The House Health and Wefare committee unanimously approves legislation that prohibits an abortion, if the decision to terminate the pregnancy is based on sex selection. Houma Representative Lenar Whitney says the use of abortion as a means for sex selection is a social problem in a number of Asian countries where male children are widely preferred over females.

"We must be willing to act today and make sure that baby girls are not aborted in Louisiana, simple because they are baby girls," Whitney said.
 
According to Louisiana Right to Life, sex selection is a significant problem in India and China. Natchitoches Representative Kenny Cox says Louisiana should not follow what China does. 
 
"We buy their cheap cars, their cheap labor and things they send to us," Cox said. "We should not accept the way they control their population."
 
The bill heads to the House floor for more debate. Committee Chairman Joe Lopinto read off the list of groups and individuals who oppose the bill, but none of them spoke out against the measure.

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Baton Rouge Representative Dalton Honore has pulled his legislation that would have put recreational marijuana legalization on a ballot. Honore says times are changing and he's glad the conversation about marijuana has been started this session, but his particular measure had too much opposition and he knew it wouldn't pass.


"Sheriff's Association, the District Attorney's Association," said Honore. "I'm assuming I've got some parents out here who are opposed to it."

The use of pot for recreational purposes is legal in Colorado and Honore says he recently visited with lawmakers there. 

He says marijuana generated 76 million dollars in taxes for Colorado in the first year and the incarceration rate went way down, but he doesn't think the people of Louisiana are ready.

"We've come a long way from last year when nobody wanted to even discuss it," said Honore. "One day it will go a little farther."

Honore says he talked to everyone on the House Criminal Justice Committee who agreed this might be something to do one day, but not at this time.

"If we took a vote on this today, it would fail. Therefore Mr. Chairman I voluntarily defer this bill."

 

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Bossier Parish Sheriff's deputies are searching for a Haughton man wanted for swindling nearly $3000 from a youth baseball league.  Lt. Bill Davis says 25-year-old Robert Martin III applied to be a coach for a team in a local league and began accepting payments from sponsors and parents for uniforms and other items.  


Davis says it's apparent that everything with Martin was not on the up and up.
 
"Unfortunately, he had a ruse to take that money and run.  He never planned to be a coach and he ended up with about $3000 in his pockets and out the door."

When league officials discovered Martin had a criminal record which made him ineligible to coach the children, they asked him to return the money and any equipment but he never showed up.  Davis says it's obvious Martin had no intention of supporting the league or the players.

"He just wanted to take their money and, quite frankly, that's a pretty down low way to act, especially with our children."

Martin is wanted for felony theft.  Detectives believe Martin may have fled the area or the state.  Davis says they hope somebody comes forward who knows the whereabouts of Martin.

"We want him to be held accountable for his actions and ultimately go to jail.  $3000 out of some kids pockets, you know, crime is crime but when you do this from children, that's pretty low down." 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's office says a man is behind bars accused of beating his pregnant girlfriend so badly, she lost the baby. Captain Dawn Foret says they received a complaint from a concerned citizen that there were multiple instances of abuse involving 36-year-old Tyson Cheavis and his 27-year-old girlfriend.


"She did admit to there being multiple instances of domestic violence," said Foret. "One of which resulted in the loss of a pregnancy recently."

Foret says the victim admitted she went to a local hospital after being attacked by Cheavis and during an examination was informed her unborn child did not have a heartbeat.

"Upon questioning the suspect, he did admit to multiple physical confrontations with this girlfriend," said Foret.

Foret says Cheavis admitted to beating his girlfriend when he was aware that she was pregnant with his child in her second trimester.

She says he also confessed to causing multiple injuries to the victim that ultimately lead to the death of their unborn child.

Cheavis was arrested and charged with second degree feticide and two counts of second degree battery (domestic violence).


 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
There will be a homecoming celebration tonight in Abbeville for a local Top 6 finalist on NBC's "The Voice", Koryn Hawthorne. The aspiring young singer will ride in a homecoming parade at 5pm then put on a special concert in Magdalen Square downtown. 


Abbeville Mayor Mark Piazza says Koryn has been singing in their community since she was a child. 
 
"She grew up in a church choir and has a phenomenal voice," said Piazza. "I've heard her perform several times throughout the years and she's just a great talent."

Piazza they couldn't be more proud of Koryn and her success on the popular singing competition show and the exposure she is helping bring to their small town.

"To have this statewide and nationwide recognition that we're getting on her behalf," said Piazza.

Piazza says fans are encouraged to bring signs in support of Hawthorne to the parade which is open to all. He says they are expecting a huge crowd.

"I know all of Vermilion Parish will be there," says Pizza. "And a lot of people from Lafayette and throughout Acadia are planning on coming."
 
 
 
 

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The AARP of Louisiana wants to see more funding so that seniors can live at home instead of institutional care.  Based on their survey, 90-percent of Louisiana voters say home and community based services are important to stay in their own home as they age.  


Interim State Director, Denise Bottcher, says these services are necessary for seniors to live outside of a nursing home.
 
"Services such as light house cleaning, or helping them with meals, or helping them with bathing.  Those types of things folks need to be living in their own home successfully and independently."

Bottcher says the state only spends 37-percent of its Medicaid budget on services to help seniors stay at home.  She says their survey shows that 83-percent of respondents support funding to provide more services for seniors living at home.

"Yet our tax dollars overwhelmingly go to support nursing home care.  So it's time for legislators, for lawmakers to re-balance that to give people what it is they want."

The telephone survey interviewed a thousand registered voters age 45 and older.  She hopes this legislative session produces funding so more seniors can avoid institutional care and take some of the burden off of family caregivers.

"More than half of Louisiana folks say that they are a caregiver for someone they love.  And that means they are having to sacrifice a part of their daily life in order to help someone else live successfully at home." 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The legislation by Baton Rouge Representative Dalton Honore that would let voters decide whether or not recreational marijuana should be legal in Louisiana gets a hearing today. 


LSU Public Policy Polling Research Director Mike Henderson says they've surveyed residents and there seems to be a decline in opposition to pot for adult use over the past couple of years. 
 
"It's fallen by almost five points and support has come up by about three points," said Henderson.

Recreational marijuana for adult use is legal in Oregon, Washington D.C., Colorado, Alaska and Washington. Henderson says when it comes to pot, there used to be a 14 point difference with opposition out-polling support and that's fallen by half in the last two years. 

He doesn't think Louisianians would make it legal now, but likely in the next 10 years.

"Because a good chunk of that support is coming from younger people who tend to turn out less often," said Henderson.

The survey found support for legalization of marijuana for personal use is at 45 percent, lagging opposition at 52 percent. He says the strongest support comes from younger Louisianians who don't show up at the polls as often.

"10 years from now those younger voters will be voting more often and if they are still supportive of marijuana legalization I'd imagine it would have very high support."

 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
The Baton Rouge Police Department says the missing two year old girl, whose mother was located murdered Saturday, has been found safe. Corporal L'Jean McKneely says A'Kyleana Lathan, or AK as her family calls her, was discovered alone.


"She was dropped off at a particular location and at that location is when police was notified," said McKneely.

McKneely says the child's father, who is from Texas, is now in town and the little girl will probably be released into his custody. He says they do not believe AK's dad is a suspect.

"And we actually have talked with him," said McKneely. "We are going to continue to look at all avenues."

McKneely says the little girl's mother, 24-year-old Taylor Lathan, was discovered shot and killed inside a vehicle on Monday. He says they are thrilled AK was found but this investigation isn't over.

"We're looking into all of that, who dropped her off, who killed the mom," said McKneely. "So we are asking the community to give us a call if they have information."
 
 

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Slidell Police arrest 22-year-old Antwonetta Jones on second-degree murder charges as investigators believe she discarded her baby inside a trash compactor. Chief Randy Smith says Jones gave birth to the child in a bathtub at her apartment. 


He says the baby was alive for several hours, but at some point the newborn began choking and quit breathing and that's when Jones panicked. Smith says Jones put the infant in a box, and brought the deceased baby to the dumpster of an apartment complex. 
 
"There's other avenues that could have been taken," Smith said. "She could have dialed 911, she could had the child, gotten medical assistance or even brought the child to a hospital."   
 
Smith says Jones lived with her mother, but no one knew that the 22-year-old was pregnant. 
 
"(She) didn't want that information out there," Smith said. "She actually said she was very scared and didn't know what to do."
 
The police chief added that authorities need to do a better job of educating our mothers-to-be that Louisiana is a Safe Haven state. If you are unable to care for your baby, you can bring the newborn, up to 60 days old, to a Safe Haven site; which are places like a police department, fire department or a hospital, no questions asked. 

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The House Ways and Means Committee approved two proposed tax increases by Plaquemine Representative Karen St. Germain to help fund road and bridge projects in the state.  There is currently a $12 billion backlog of road improvements in the state.  


St. Germain says Louisianians expect their roads to be properly maintained.
 
"You can't get to the hospital and you can't get to school without a road.  And one that is actually usable."

The current gas tax in Louisiana is 20-cents per gallon.  HB 777 was amended to raise the tax by 10-cents per gallon.  St. Germain says that could generate up to $300 million for road and bridge improvements.  She says improved roadways will also benefit the state's business and industry.

"If you even travel through the economic corridors of this state and you are trying to get to work and come home, it is an arduous task."

The last gas tax increase in Louisiana was in 1984.  HB 778 increases the state's sales tax by one percent with those revenues going toward specific highway projects.  Both bills will now go to the House floor for debate.  St. Germain says the state has waited too long to address this issue.

"We kicked the can down the road, but we lost it in a pot hole and we can't get the can out." 

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It has been announced that Governor Bobby Jindal has another book coming out in October.  The book is entitled "American Will:  The Forgotten Choices That Changed Our Republic."  


ULM Political Science Professor Joshua Stockley says that while this book's subject matter is history, this is really a campaign book.
 
"This is another example of Governor Jindal trying to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded Republican presidential field."

Jindal calls the book a call to arms for the future.  In the book, the governor reviews historical events ranging from the Louisiana Purchase to the Cold War.  Stockley says this is an example of Jindal trying to stay in the conversation in a Republican presidential field that is getting more and more crowded.

"I think this book has everything to do with staying relevant.  Trying to keep himself a presidential, a vice-presidential, or even a cabinet possibility."

Jindal previously released the book "Leadership and Crisis" in 2010.  The governor says he will not announce his decision on running for president until after the conclusion of the current legislative session.  Stockley says, with more candidates entering the presidential race, Jindal is currently in a position where he has to decide sooner rather than later.

"Is it too late for anyone to announce in June?  No.  But certainly that window of opportunity is closing." 

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The Baton Rouge Police Department says after their interview Monday with former LSU Tiger La'el Collins, he is still not a suspect in the April 24th murder of Brittney Mills. Corporal Don Coppola says Collins is fully cooperating.


"At this point and time he is not considered a suspect," said Coppola. "Investigators will follow up on leads provided by him and others they  have spoke with."

Cops say Mills was 8 months pregnant when she was gunned down in her home and the baby, Brenton, died a week later. Apparently she and Collins used to have some sort of relationship.

Coppola says they may need Collins to stay involved in the investigation.

"It may be something where he, or someone else they've spoken with, needs to be brought back in for clarification," said Coppola. 

Coppola says they are still trying to gather information from people who may no the victim. He says Collins was never considered a suspect.


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Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that would use funds from unclaimed gambling winnings to pay for rape victims forensic medical exams clears House appropriations. New Orleans Representative Helena Moreno says under her measure, money from expired winning tickets from casinos and race tracks would go into the crime victim's reparations fund.


Alexandra Stillson is a rape victim.

"This huge stack is my rape bills," said Stillson. "This is from my forensic exam, my ambulance ride, for all the medications I had to take to make sure I didn't get HIV."

Stillson says she was raped by two men who broke into her home while she was watching television. She feels like she relives the traumatic experience every time another bill comes in the mail.

Wade Duty, of the Louisiana Casino Association, says while they don't oppose the bill on its merits, they don't approve of the funding mechanism. He says winning money is the property of the gaming establishment until the player cashes the ticket.

"If the unclaimed tickets were truly the players property we would not pay taxes on it, we don't pay taxes on other people's property," said Duty.

Moreno says casinos keep about $1.2 million dollars in gambling money that was never claimed by the player.

The bill passed without opposition and now heads to the House floor. 

 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that allows for the dispensing of medicinal marijuana to patients who suffer from certain medical conditions makes it off the Senate floor. New Iberia Senator Fred Mills says they've been working hard on this legislation to keep everyone happy.


"I think we've come up with something that's the real sweet spot between patient care and law enforcement," said Mills.

Mills says under the proposed law, medical marijuana could only be prescribed by a doctor for someone clinically diagnosed with glaucoma,  spastic quadriplegia or suffering symptoms from chemotherapy cancer treatment.

He says it would be grown at only one site in the state and dispensed 10 places in non-smokeable form.

"You have to have a prescription, that medical condition and it can only be in it's refined form," said Mills. "It can't be crude and it can't be inhaled."

The vote count was 22-13 and the measure now heads to the House. 

Medical marijuana has technically been legal in Louisiana since 1991, but there were never rules put in place for ways to get it in the hands of patients.

Mills says the bill 24 years ago was left wide open and no limitations were set.

"This sets quantity limits, it sets testing it sets basically where it can not be in raw form," said Mills. "Right now if you had a prescription, you could have the raw form of marijuana and it's the wild wild west."


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State Treasurer John Kennedy announces he's endorsing US Senator David Vitter for Governor. Kennedy outlined key issues he felt would best be addressed by Vitter.

"Senator Vitter, as Governor Vitter wants a Louisiana whose roads don't suck," said Kennedy. "Whose roads aren't axle breaking insults to the 21st century."


Kennedy has previously announced he'll be seeking re-election in the fall and some speculate he'll be going after the Senate seat should Vitter become Governor.

But Vitter says they have not talked about any other election.

"This is Louisiana politics and there are all sorts of conspiracy theorists," said Vitter. "I'm a firm believer in putting first things first and not being presumptuous."

Kenndy says Vitter respects tax payer dollars and has the ability to take on Louisiana's fiscal challenges.

"He understands that he needs some budget stability," said Kennedy. "We can't go on like we are living from paycheck to paycheck and lurching from crisis to crisis."
 
 

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Former LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins met with Baton Rouge police detectives Monday as part of an investigation into the shooting death of a pregnant woman on April 24th. Collins wore a blue suit for his meeting with investigators and his attorney, Jim Boren, says the All-SEC player cooperated fully.

"We answered every question that they asked, we provided them with all of the information they wanted," Boren said.
 
Collins' meeting with detectives lasted about an hour and a half. Boren says his client is still NOT a suspect in Brittney Mills' homicide. 
 
"We know the facts....he had nothing to do with that lady's murder," Boren said. 
 
It's been reported Collins and Mills had a romantic relationship. Boren could not say whether Collins took a paternity test to confirm whether it was his child that died a week after the shooting.
 
But Boren says the Baton Rouge native is cooperating with the investigation and ready to get his NFL career started.
 
"He's ready to go, he wants to get back into training and he wants to focus on the next step," Boren said. 
 
Collins was expected to be a first-round selection in this year's NFL draft. But his name was not called during the seven-round draft, as teams are concerned he maybe involved in this violent crime.  
 
A Baton Rouge police spokesperson says Collins is still not considered a suspect in the homicide of Brittney and Brenton Mills after fully cooperating with investigators today. 

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The House appropriations committee approves a plan that would allow the state to draw down federal money that can be used to expand Medicaid coverage.  House speaker Chuck Kleckley says the plan involves hospitals putting their financial resources together so the state can draw down federal dollars that can be used to provide health care to low income individuals.


"These are the hospitals taking their money, re-investing in the state of Louisiana, and giving them the ability to draw down the federal dollars."

Governor Bobby Jindal opposes Medicaid expansion, calling it a bad deal for the state.  But Kleckley says this plan could save up to $200 million for the state's budget.  He says this is real money that can be put in the general fund.

"These are dollars that can be used for higher ed.  These are dollars that can be used for other areas of the state government here in Louisiana."

Since this measure is a concurrent resolution, Governor Jindal cannot veto the legislation, but it does need a two-thirds vote of both houses for passage.  Kleckley says this measure would set up a mechanism for our next governor to pull from Medicaid expansion money next year.

"There's nothing better that I think can benefit the state and look into the future and try to have a little vision here, that when that next person comes in that they can take this and use it." 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Planned Parenthood supporters from across the state plan to gather at the Capitol Monday morning to support reproductive heath care access in Louisiana. Spokeswoman Raegan Carter says the plan is to talk to our elected officials about the importance of woman having access to high quality healthcare they provide in Louisiana.


"We are really really concerned about the $1.6 billion dollar deficit and what that means for all Louisiana citizens when it comes to healthcare," said Carter.

Carter says the Jindal administration has made it clear they plan to launch a full-blown attack on the true needs of the people of Louisiana. She says they believe families deserve access to healthcare no matter who they are or where they live.

"Women deserve preventive healthcare, access to exams and screenings," says Carter. "All of those services we provide."

Carter says basic health care rights are the foundation of freedom and opportunity for women and families.

She says they want the message to be clear that politics should be left out of reproductive health care and of what Planned Parenthood provides.

"Louisiana has some of the highest rates of HIV and STI's," says Carter. "Women and families deserve access to testing and treatment for those services."
 
 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Three weeks are in the books for the current legislative session and many say lawmakers are still not close to finding a solution to the state's $1.6 billion dollar budget shortfall. Jeremy Alford of Lapolitics.com says there is just as much uncertainty today as there was in January.


"Lawmakers are still trying to figure out how they are going to cobble this budget together," says Alford. "I think a lot of the confusion involves this revenue neutral rule the governor insists upon."

Alford says it's a misconception that Governor Bobby Jindal is not staying involved in what's going on at the Capitol because he's making it very clear to legislators that the budget will have to be balanced in a revenue neutral way.

"He's not going to approve any net increase in taxes and lawmakers are following suit."

Alford predicts it'll be 15 days out of the end of the session before any real plan starts to take shape.

He says legislators could go with an inventory tax repeal which business is in favor of and local governments are opposed to or make certain tax credits non-refundable which the administration is pushing but business is against.

"If they go with one or the other, it's still going to be nearly impossible to balance this budget in a revenue neutral manner," said Alford.
 


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