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Two bills approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee seek to extend domestic violence protections to more Louisiana couples. One proposal by Harvey Representative Patrick Connick would include same sex couples in domestic abuse laws. Baton Rouge Representative Denise Marcelle supports the measure.

“I think it’s important that we treat everybody the same, regardless of whether that’s for hire or for prosecution,” Marcelle said.

Louisiana is one of two states that has the opposite sex language on the books for domestic violence laws. Jody Fortunato with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office says they are running into problems handling felony domestic abuse charges against same sex couples.

“We’re only able to charge those folks with a misdemeanor simple battery because the domestic abuse battery statute as written, we can’t use it,” Fortunato said.

Another proposal by New Orleans Representative Helena Moreno would include couples who are dating in the law. She says currently the laws only apply to couples who are living together or married. She says 41 other states cover dating partners in criminal laws.

“About 60 percent of the domestic violence cases are actually dating partners. So this is a really big loophole that we have in our laws,” Moreno said.

Both measures head to the House floor for more discussion.

 
 
 
 
 

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The Festival International de Louisiane is underway in Lafayette, and festivalgoers are lining up to enjoy the festivities from all over the world. Kelly Strenge with the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau says there will be entertainers from as far away as Europe and Africa.

“All the stages are open, and all the food booths are open. We have bands from all over the world coming to Lafayette to entertain you,” Strenge said.

Strenge says attendees can even expect to see some big local names like Marc Broussard. She says this is a family friendly event, and during the weekend, there’s a section of the festival that’s just for kids. She says attendance is free, and they even have free parking at the Cajun Dome.

“The whole thing takes over all of downtown. So parking will be at a premium in the downtown area, but park at the Cajun Dome or Cajun Field and take the free shuttle to the festival,” Strenge said.

Strenge says this year the Heritage Stage was removed because of budget constraints. She says in its place, they’ll have space for even more vendors. She says artists from all over the Bayou State come to the festival to show off their work.

“So you can buy jewelry, furniture, clothing, just an assortment of things made by Louisiana artists, and then also from vendors from around the world with import type of merchandise,” Strenge said.

The festival in downtown Lafayette lasts until Sunday.

 
 
 
 
 

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Authorities in St. Landry Parish have arrested two Washington Elementary School teachers for allegedly bullying a student. Sheriff Bobby Guidroz says the received reports from a parent that 44-year-old Ann Shelvin would tell her 11-year-old student to fight her classmates or Shelvin would fail her.

“Ann Shelvin is the teacher that instigated, initiated all of this and encouraged other kids and retaliate against the other kids.”

Guidroz says this isn’t the first time Shelvin has bullied students and those incidents are now under investigation. He says Shelvin’s teacher’s aid, 50-year-old Tracy Gallow, also encouraged students to fight the young girl and video footage shows Gallow physically bullying her.

“She shoved the child while on some bleachers, really aggressive attitude and manner towards this 11-year-old child.”

Shelvin faces multiple charges including, contributing to child delinquency, as does Gallow, who received charges of simple battery and intimidation. Guidroz says it seems the teachers bullied the girl because they had a problem with one of her parents.

“The retaliation was against the child’s mother. There was some kind of personal animosity the teacher and the teacher’s aid had against this 11-year-old child’s mother.”

 

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Louisiana’s roads, bridges and drinking water receives a D rating on the 2017 Report Card for Louisiana Infrastructure produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Executive Director of the Report Card project, Dr. Kam Movassaghi says the state’s infrastructure needs immediate attention.

“Frankly, it is embarrassing. A grade of D means the system does not provide the intended service and is at risk of failure,” Movassaghi said.                 

Louisiana’s lowest scores are in drinking water and inland waterways, with D- ratings, while roads, bridges, and coastal waters earned D and D scores. Of the 9 categories graded in the last report in 2012, 8 of them got worse or stayed the same. Movassaghi believes the public is willing to pay a little more to live in a better environment.

“The public demands and deserves a safe fast smooth road, safe drinking water, and a protected neighborhood,” Movassaghi said.

Movassaghi says we’re already paying more in hidden costs like wasted gas sitting in traffic, higher insurance, and lower property values. He says there are several bills filed for the session that could help address these problems, but that means getting the legislature to shell out more money.

“Obviously these systems with their shortfalls are not going to be fixed by themselves. It’s going to require some investment to make the system function better,” Movassaghi said.

Louisiana’s best scores were C- to C ratings for levees, ports, waste, and aviation.

 
 
 
 
 

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The House Education Committee advances a measure that would ban corporal punishment of any kind in public schools. House Bill 497 is by Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton who says there is no proof that spanking a student has actually worked at changing behavior.

"In the study that was done, the same students that were paddled in 2010 were also paddled in 2011," said Norton.

On a 6-5 vote, the measure now heads to the House floor. Norton said, in addition to corporal punishment possibly opening up to door to lawsuits, it shouldn't be up to educators to punish kids by paddling them.
 
"I believe that is the parents responsibility," said Norton. 
 
Louisiana's school boards association says 38 of the state's 69 public school districts allow schools to use corporal punishment. 
 
 
 

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A bill that would ban so-called sanctuary city policies barely passed out the House Criminal Justice Committee. Chairman Sherman Mack broke a 7-7 tie by casting the final “yes” vote. Denham Springs Representative Valarie Hodges says her measure isn’t about discrimination, but putting America first. She says she raised her children in Mexico for 18 years…

“I love Hispanics, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Chinese, I love everybody. This is not about being discriminatory, this is not about being racist. It’s about following the rule of law.”

But Baton Rouge native Melissa Yarborough spoke in opposition. Yarborough says this measure states that communities are better off without illegal aliens. She says her life was flipped upside down when her fiancé was deported.

“Deporting people who have already established their lives here without regard to the rolls they play in our communities and economy, is highly disruptive to our families, our businesses and our community.”

Attorney General Jeff Landry says this legislation will ensure that no jurisdiction in the state will attempt to invite illegal immigrants into Louisiana. He says the bill does not say Louisiana doesn’t support immigrants but there is a rule of law to follow.

“This bill will guarantee that Louisiana is never the target of federal agencies who want to deny our law enforcement agencies funding.”

The legislation targets New Orleans, because it’s police force has a policy that prohibits officers from questioning the immigration status of individuals who commit or report a crime. Researcher with the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University Sue Weishar,

“This is good public policy because questioning people about their immigration status undermines public trust.”

 

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A bill that would prohibit the use of corporal punishment on children with disabilities in public schools passes out of the House Education Committee. The panel was told that 38 public school districts in Louisiana allow corporal punishment. And Michelle Hurst with the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council says unfortunately students with disabilities are on the receiving end of this kind of punishment.

“Students who have limited social skills or limited communication skills sometimes results in more intense, challenging behaviors.”

This legislation filed by Baton Rouge Rep. Franklin Foil is part of Governor Edwards’ legislative agenda. Hurst says the use of physical punishment for students with disabilities takes away their dignity. She says many times teachers do not understand how to handle these students.

“Educators tend to use this approach instead of seeking alternative ways to either provide consequences to the students or provide more effective teaching strategies.”

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The House Health and Welfare Committee advances a bill that would limit first-time opioid prescriptions in Louisiana, in the hopes of addressing a growing opioid epidemic. Former Assistant Secretary of Health, Dr. Karen DeSalvo testified in support of the bill.

She says across the country 90 people are dying a day from opioid overdoses.

“We’ve all been to the funerals. We’ve seen the headlines. We know that the increase in opioid deaths related to prescription drugs meant that 891 people in Louisiana lost their life in 2014 alone,” DeSalvo said.

The proposal by New Orleans Representative Helena Moreno would limit first-time opioid prescriptions to a 7-day supply. The measure also requires doctors to tell their patients about the risks involved with taking pain pills. DeSalvo says this allows for an open dialogue between patients and their doctors.

“They need to ask their doctors about harms. They need to tell their doctor if they have any history of substance abuse disorder, and they need to be willing to come forward if they think that they do to have an opportunity for treatment and recovery,” DeSalvo said.

The bill allows patients to request pharmacists not fill the entire quantity of opioid prescription if they don’t need it. DeSalvo says this will limit the number of extra pain pills people have in their medicine cabinets, which keeps them away from friends and family. She says this can prevent other people from getting addicted to painkillers.

“Those who are prescribed prescription drugs but don’t take them and they languish in the medicine cabinet, we know from talking to young people that’s where they get started on using opioids,” DeSalvo said.

The measure now heads to the House floor for more discussion.

 
 
 
 
 

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A measure that would require public schools to teach litter prevention and awareness to students from kindergarten to fifth grade passed out of the House Education Committee. Executive Director of Keep Louisiana Beautiful Susan Russell spoke in support of the bill and says educating young children on litter will give them the tools to become good environmental stewards.

“We are counting on them to break the cycle of neglect and to raise the bar for a clean and beautiful Louisiana.”

The proposed law would require litter instruction be integrated into the existing science curriculum. Russell says it’s no secret Louisiana has a huge litter problem. She says the purpose of educating young students is to prepare them for tomorrow’s world.

“Littering is not a new problem but it has changed since we were in grade school and it will continue to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”

Executive Director of the Louisiana School Boards Association Scott Richard also spoke before the committee. He says while they support the efforts to ensure the state is not at the top of the list for littering, it’s important to point out,

“Anti-littering and taking care of the environment are embedded throughout the curriculum and that’s the point I wanted to come to the table and make.”

 

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More than a dozen UL-Lafayette football players have been suspended indefinitely from the team after allegedly robbing a dorm room on campus. Lt. Billy Abrams with the UL-Lafayette Police Department says 13 football players stole several items from a room in Huger Hall.

“They took several items totaling approximately $2,400. During the course of the investigation, video surveillance was obtained, and we were able to identify who these students were,” Abrams said.

Abrams says at this time, police are unsure what led the football players to commit this crime. He says all of the students are charged with conspiracy to commit felony theft.

“All of the students turned themselves in to Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, and they all cooperated throughout the investigation. We were able to recover all of the items that were stolen,” Abrams said.

Head football coach Mark Hudspeth issued a statement saying, “On behalf of our football program, I would like to apologize to Cajun Nation and the University. We do not condone the behavior that was represented and we expect higher standards of our student-athletes. We work diligently every day to guide, educate and develop these young men, so it is disappointing when we do not meet those standards. We will be respectful of the legal process as it runs its course."

 
 
 
 
 

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The House rejects a bill to shorten the waiting period for a divorce for parents with minor children. The proposal by Homer Representative Patrick Jefferson would reduce the waiting period from one year to six months. But Livingston Representative Sherman Mack says families need ample time to make sure they’re making the right decision.

“The reason the law was changed 11 years ago was to give families the opportunity to exhaust every remedy possible so they could determine if their family was worth saving,” Mack said.

The bill sought to undo an extended waiting period that was put on the books for couples with children, as lawmakers believed given ample time, couples could resolve their problems. Baton Rouge Representative Rick Edmonds also opposed the bill. He says he stands against divorce, period.

“We stand for that man and that woman standing and loving each other together for a lifetime, and anything that we can do to put a family in a position to stay together, we ought to do that,” Garafola said.

But Jefferson is disappointed his legislation failed on a 52-44 vote. He says the longer waiting period isn’t fair to couples who just want the stress of the divorce to be finalized in a speedy fashion.

“Do we make them remain married? Is that what we’ve come to because the data indicates that a two parent household is the best household,” Jefferson said.

 
 
 
 
 

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A measure that would prohibit the use of tobacco products anywhere on a public or private school campus is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee today. West Monroe Representative Frank Hoffman says in the 90’s, Louisiana made it illegal to smoke in schools, but this legislation will expand on that law.

“It’s not just buildings now, but all of the school property that will not allow smoking.”

Hoffman says there will be some exceptions to the bill, like churches or other non-educational buildings. But the West Monroe legislator says measure also includes e-cigarettes and similar devices.

“And it also will exclude the use of these products while transporting students on buses or other vehicles.”

Hoffman says the proposed law allows you to bring cigarettes or tobacco on a school campus, but you would not able to smoke or chew tobacco. He says the use of smoking cessation products on the property would be allowed under the measure.

“If that product has been approved for use by the United States Drug and Food Administration, that’s for people who are trying to stop and have these smoking cessation products and that would be allowed.”

 
 

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University View, a public online charter K-12 school, is expanding to offer high school students the chance to receive a free two year Associate’s Degree when they graduate from high school.

UView Superintendent Dr. Lonnie Luce says most college courses will be available online but some classes in the technical field are face to face at a community college campus.

“If the students have the ACT scores, we will actually pay full tuition and have our students face to face in those classes. For instance, it’s kind of hard to teach welding online.”

Luce says the Early College Program allows graduates to save two years of costs towards a college degree or be prepared to enter a technical field at a higher pay rate. He says now that UView is a K-14 public school, the number of students increased to 2,300.

“We were allowed to expand our numbers, we were at 2,100 students this year but they’ve upped our numbers to allow us to have the Early College Program.”

The program will start during the fall semester of 2017. Luce says families interested in the early college program can attend an information session online or in person by visiting universityview.academy. He says enrollment for the program is now open.

“We still have some slots open, it’s kind of a first come, first serve on the numbers. So, we look forward to having people go to our website and get signed up.”

 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards remains hopeful lawmakers can pass a budget plan to address the loss of $1.3 billion in temporary taxes that expire next year. Edwards spoke with reporters shortly after his proposed tax on business sales was tabled for the legislative session. Edwards says there are still multiple tax bills waiting to be discussed.

“Things like lowering the rate and broadening the base of the individual income tax, corporate income tax, the sales tax, all of which come from the task force report,” Edwards said.

But Edwards says since the GOP dominated House Ways and Means committee didn’t like his plan, House Republican leaders should unveil their own proposal.

“At this point in time I’m looking for the House leadership to step up, offer solutions, not just continue to say no,” Edwards said.

But Chairman of the House Republican Legislative Delegation Lance Harris of Alexandria says the legislative process is their plan, and that starts with the proposed budget for next fiscal year.

“Appropriations is looking at getting HB1 out next week. So that’s part of the plan is being immersed in the legislative process,” Harris said.

Harris says legislators will continue to look at various bills. Other ideas on the table include changing how sales taxes are collected and altering income tax brackets. He anticipates the GOP can support some of those ideas.

“There’s 160 bills, I think, that have been filed. So I know there’s going to be some that will be passed out of committee on the floor. So naturally there will be some things that we look at, no question about it,” Harris said.

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The centerpiece to Governor John Bel Edwards’ tax plan fails to receive support from the House Ways and Means Committee and the legislative sponsor decides not to move forward with the legislation. Franklin Representative Sam Jones says the Commercial Activity Tax proposal would provide a stable revenue stream for the state, but the legislature doesn’t support it.

“We need to be able to tell businesses, this is what the deal is and we’re not going to change it on you. We need to change this once and for all and maybe this isn’t the way to do it.”

The CAT Tax as it was known, would’ve imposed a tax on transactions that businesses make and would’ve generated nearly 300 million dollars in state revenues. But the measure received stiff opposition from business groups, who says this tax would hurt the state’s business climate. President of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association Chris John,

“This bill, certainly runs contrary to job creation. This bill will kill the very industry that we depend on to be able to climb out of this economic recession that we have.”

Head of the anti-tax organization Gator PAC, Col. Rob Maness, says this tax policy encourages and allows Louisiana to spend more than the economy can sustain.

“This tax and the destabilization of the business climate that it brings, will crush medium and small businesses, especially in the oil and gas business.”

 

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Michelle Southern & Halen Doughty reporting.
On a 6 to 1 vote, a Senate Judiciary committee approves a proposal to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana. The bill by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor would eliminate the death penalty for capital murder and aggravated rape cases after July 31.
 
Bishop Shelton Fabre of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux says taking a life should be left to a higher power.

"The primary, and most important reason to end the death penalty, is because of our belief that all human life is sacred," said Fabre.

New Orleans Attorney Nick Trenticosta testifies 82 percent of death penalty sentences in Louisiana have been reversed, a rate he says is the highest in the country. He adds the death penalty doesn’t provide closure for the victims in these cases. Rev. Leo Cyrus of New Hope Baptist Church in Baton Rouge agrees.

"We can never return to them the life that was taken through violence, but we can help them seek healing," said Cyrus.

The head of the Louisiana Public Defender Board says the state spent $91 million defending death penalty cases since 2008.

Speaking in opposition to the bill is Christie Battaglia [bat-tà-glia] whose father is on death row in Texas for shooting and killing his two other daughters when they were age 6 and 9. 

"I'm confident that if he had the chance to not be in prison, that I probably wouldn't be here," said Battaglia.

Battaglia says she knows that some people are wrongly on death row, but that means there is a problem with the system and not that others don’t need to be executed. She says her father is an angry killer who will never change.

"If the death penalty didn't exist, and he got life without parole, but then it was changed to being able to get parole, I would be living in fear," said Battaglia.

The lone nay vote was from Baton Rouge Senator Bodi White.
 
 
 

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A state lawmaker plans to move forward with her legislation designed to protect Confederate monuments, even though the process of removing them has begun in New Orleans. The Liberty Place monument was taken down early Monday morning, and the city also plans to remove three more confederate-era statues. Franklinton Senator Beth Mizell opposes what Mayor Mitch Landrieu is doing.

“I don’t want to see anything that is part of the story of the people of Louisiana being compromised, and that’s things I like and things I don’t like. It’s all part of how we got to where we are today,” Mizell said.

That’s why Mizell will still seek passage of her bill, which requires the legislative approval before local government can remove any monument.

“If a municipality came to the legislature and had some good reason to remove an object, then the legislature representing the people of the state of Louisiana would see whether that was a valid request or not,” Mizell said.

Mizell says the bill would not only protect confederate monuments. She says it includes memorials that have been in place over 25 years and any landmark on the National Register of Historical Places.

“The point of the bill is to protect all monuments. This is the mixing pot that Louisiana is. We all have objects that we hold dear that some group in some day could find objectionable,” Mizell said.

Mizell says it’s unclear when her bill will get a hearing in the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs, but it could be too late to save the monuments that the city of New Orleans plans to remove.

 
 
 
 
 

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Two individuals from Orange, Texas have been arrested and one is still on the loose after allegedly tying up an elderly Starks man for hours and stealing his guns, cell phone and wallet. Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso says the victim was discovered when a food delivery showed up at his home.

“Meals on Wheels was going to deliver meals to this 83-year-old gentleman’s house, where they encountered him tied up. It appears, from our investigation, that he’d been there approximately 7 hours.”

Mancuso says 32-year-old Thomas Henson and 33-year-old Lea Pence were arrested and authorities are still searching for 43-year-old Michael Helmer, known as Mikey Irish. He says the three individuals face multiple charges including, cruelty to the infirmed and false imprisonment while armed with a dangerous weapon.


“I know that we’re going to change them with everything we can at this point and my hopes are we can change them with some type of stalking because we know we can account for them showing up at the house a couple days before.”

All three suspects have previous criminal records. Mancuso says in his opinion, these individuals stalked and took advantage of the elderly gentleman.

“When you prey on our elderly and our kids, that really can’t protect themselves, I think that’s the worst type of crime that you can have and we’re going to come at you as hard as we can, simple as that.”

 
 

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Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser is not happy the Liberty Place monument in New Orleans was taken down under the cover of night. The monument commemorated a group of white supremacists who fought against the racially integrated police force in 1874. Nungesser says the monuments should stay in place because they’re part of Louisiana’s history.

“We can’t change history. Obviously of the four, the one that was taken down was the most controversial, but Lee Circle and these other monuments, where does it stop?” Nungesser said.

The New Orleans City Council voted to remove four confederate-era monuments, including statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard. Nungesser says he’s doing everything he can to make sure the rest of the city’s monuments remain in place.

“I did write the president and our congressmen and senators, and I’ve asked the attorney general to sue and try to stop it. Nobody seems to think we’ve got much of a leg to stand on,” Nungesser said.

Nungesser suspects the removal of the monuments, which have been there for a hundred years, is a political move by Democratic Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who’s been pushing to take them down since 2015. But he says there are monuments all over the world commemorating darker parts of history.

“A lot of monuments all over have been erected, things that over time we realized were not good things, but it doesn’t change history to take them down,” Nungesser said.

 
 
 
 
 

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It’s expected a 30 second commercial from Governor John Bel Edwards will hit the airwaves this week, promoting his budget plan. The governor is pushing a proposal to place a new tax on businesses while reducing individual income taxes. Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says he doesn’t have much support from legislators.

“I think this is a PR war with him and the Republicans where he’s trying to get support for his approach to funding government. The Republicans are not going to change their votes because of this ad.”

The governor is recommending this tax plan as a way to offset $1.3 billion in temporary sales taxes that are set to expire next year. Pinsonat says Republicans are not overly concerned with the higher sales taxes but Edwards is looking out for his low income supporters.

“Shift the sales tax off the poor people and enact either an income tax or an activity tax, which would be more on Republicans and businesses.”

The PAC, Rebuild Louisiana, is paying for the ad. Pinsonat says the goal of Edwards’ ad is to blame the Republicans for the state’s failing tax plan.

“He’s going to appeal to the middle class and the lower middle class that the Republican are the bad guys and he’s trying to fix the outdated tax structure in Louisiana and the big bad Republicans won’t help him.”

 
 

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