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House education committee approves the "Merry Christmas" bill

The House Education Committee approves a bill that gives public schools the authority to put up nativity scenes and Christmas trees as part of a holiday display. The author of the measure is Shreveport Representative Alan Seabaugh, who says it's the Merry Christmas bill.

"The point of the bill is that you don't have to call it a holiday tree, it can be a Christmas tree and the Supreme Court said repeatedly that's okay," Seabaugh said.
Seabaugh says he gets calls every year from public schools, asking if they can have a Christmas play or put up a Christmas tree.
But he says schools are still now allowed to promote one religion over another. The bill heads to the House floor.

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ULM named most underrated college in Louisiana by Business Insider

Michelle Southern reporting.
Business Insider Magazine has named The University of Louisiana at Monroe the most underrated college in the state. ULM President Dr. Nick Bruno said the publication chose one college from each state which exhibited great academics, high acceptance rates and strong in state student populations.

He says he's known for a long time that ULM is the best kept secret in Louisiana's higher education system.

"It's also exciting to see the other notable schools from other states that also made the list along with ULM," said Bruno.

Others on the list include Clemson, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and the University of Florida.

Bruno says it's very rewarding to see such a notable publication recognize that ULM is an institution that has a lot to offer students seeking a quality education.

He says he's told his staff that bragging ends when fact begins.

"In many cases we always like to think that the facts spoke for themselves and this recognition is identified on facts," Bruno said.

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State lawmakers do not like the idea of armed school teachers

Members of the House Criminal Justice committee shot down a proposal to allow some teachers and administrators to carry a gun on school campuses. Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton said no way.
"They (teachers) are not going to have the training that law enforcement has," Norton said. "There is no way they are going to qualified, they are teachers."

 Chalmette Representative Ray Garofalo is the bill's author. He says teachers and administrators would need a concealed handgun permit and undergo training before they are allowed to bring a weapon to school. He says the bill's main goal is to make criminals think twice before going on a killing spree at a school.
"When we have a sign out front that says gun free zone, it's like a welcome sign," Garofalo said. "This is the place you want to go, if you want to kill as many people as possible before the police arrive to stop you."
New Iberia Representative Terry Landry, is a former State Police commander, and he also voiced his opposition to Garofalo's proposal. Landry says teachers chose their profession to be teachers and not police officers.
"We are putting our children and community at risk when we just blatantly give the authority for people to carry guns in schools," Landry said.
Garofalo saw there was enough opposition that he voluntarily deferred the bill and will try to come up with another proposal. 
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Man shot and killed by police after attacking his mother

Michelle Southern reporting.
State Police say they are investigating an officer involved shooting for the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Department in which a male suspect, who was found attacking his mother was fatally shot by law enforcement.

 Trooper Greg Marchand says deputies responded to a domestic disturbance at a home in Hammond around 12:30pm Tuesday.
"Upon arrival deputies encountered an armed suspect who was actively engaging in a female victim who we later determined was his mother," said Marchand.

Marchand says the victim, 70-year-old Barbara Nichols, called the sheriff's office to report her son was apparently trying to kill her.

He says first responders arrived to find 48-year-old Michael Nichols brutally assaulting his mother with a weapon.

"And because of the threat of imminent danger and loss of life to the victim, the officers had to use lethal force and they fatally wounded the suspect," Marchand said.

Marchand says the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene by the Tangipahoa Parish Coroner.

Barbara Nichols was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. Motive has not yet been determined.
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Two bodies found in burned out vehicle in Vermilion Parish

Two bodies were found inside a vehicle that was on fire in Vermilion Parish. Sheriff deputies made the gruesome discovery at around one o' clock this morning. Major Darryl LeBlanc, with the Vermilion Parish Sheriff's Deputies says it will take awhile before they are able to positively ID the victims.

"I can tell you that the bodies were burned beyond recognition," Leblanc said. "Not able to tell race or sex." 
LeBlanc says at this time the deaths are considered suspicious, but there are more questions than answers than at this time. He says more clues will be developed, when an autopsy on the bodies is completed. 
The Acadiana Crime Lab, State Fire Marshal's Office and State Police is assisting in the investigation.

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McAllister to spend Easter holiday with wife and family

Embattled US Representative Vance McAllister will not make any public appearances this week, but he will return to work in Washington D-C when Congress returns from a two-week holiday recess. That's according to a statement released by his office.

McAllister has not been seen publicly since video was made public that showed him kissing a staffer that was also married. In a written statement,  his office said McAllister is with his wife and family for the rest of the Easter recess.
Several republicans, including Governor Bobby Jindal and party chairman Roger Villere, have called for McAllister's resignation. But publisher of lapolitics.com John Maginnis says McAllister should finish out his term, which expires at the end of this year. 
"I think the people of the 5th Congressional District don't deserve to have two Congressmen quit on them in one term," Maginnis said. "Now whether or not Vance McAllister runs for re-election that's another matter."
McAllister was elected last fall, when Rodney Alexander resigned and accepted the job as Secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.
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Measure to scrap Louisiana's anti-sodomy law fails on House floor

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that would take the unenforceable anti-sodomy law off Louisiana's books did not pass on the House floor Tuesday. The legislation by Baton Rouge Representative Patricia Smith only got 27 yes votes and needed 53 to pass. Denham Springs Representative Valarie Hodges spoke in opposition of the measure.
(pictured: DS Rep. Valarie Hodges)

"This is an established law that protects children," says Hodges. "It also protects minors and protects all of us from public displays of indecency."

Anti-Sodomy laws were invalidated nationwide by the US Supreme Court in 2003. But Hodges says these rules have been in place in Louisiana for over 200 years and she was not elected to "rubber stamp" decisions made by the Supreme Court.

"If that was the case we could all go home. We're here to upload the laws of what's right and wrong," Hodges said.

Other opponents have argued that making sodomy technically legal in Louisiana puts juveniles at risk and could potentially expose children to indecency.

Smith says police don't need to be wasting time entrapping people in parks and making arrests for a crime that is not punishable.

"Our law enforcement are people that you hire in your cities and parishes to protect you," Smith said. "And in order for them to protect you they should not be relying on unconstitutional laws when they can't even prosecute the individuals that they bring forward."

The bill failed by a vote of 67-27.

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BPSO: Wife in jail for conspiring to kill husband with another man

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office says a woman is under arrest for conspiring to kill her husband with another man. Lt. Bill Davis says the alleged plan was to have 43-year-old Patrick Pierce break into the couple's home in Haughton while they were sleeping, murder the husband then tie up the wife to make it look like a home invasion.
(Sims & Pierce pictured; source: BPSO)

"Of course they never got that far in their plan," said Davis. "The husband became startled and disarmed the man which is what ultimately foiled their attempt."

Davis says initially deputies were called to the home Sunday morning to respond to an on-going home invasion. He says they interviewed the couple who told investigators that an alleged robber entered their home with a gun and that the husband was able to wrestle the weapon away.

Davis says they continued their investigation and the wife, 31-year-old Cassie Sims and Pierce confessed to their plot about 24 hours later.

He says they were each arrested for conspiracy to commit 2-degree murder and a host of other charges.

"Pierce was a convicted felon so he was also given the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon," said Pierce. "But since Sims supplied the weapon and ammunition to him, she was also charged with supplying a felon with a firearm as well as ammunition and solicitation for murder since she asked this man to kill her husband."
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Senate committee approves a bill to restrict the use of drones

A senate committee approves a bill to ban the use of drones to photograph people on private property without permission, but a couple of lawmakers have concerns. The measure contains several exceptions, including for law enforcement. But Benton Senator Robert Adley says the bill could also hurt the media's ability to cover a news event.

"They (media) can't be there for bank robbery or anything else," Adley said.
The proposal is by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor, who says the media's ability to cover a big story would not be hampered by this legislation. 
Claitor also added that the First Amendment doesn't trump the Fourth Amendment.
Despite the concerns, the bill passed without objection and heads to the Senate floor.

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Bill increasing penalties for heroin convictions advances to Senate Floor

Michelle Southern reporting.
The State Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation by Senator Dan Claitor that would set maximum prison sentences for possession or distribution of heroin to 99 years. The Baton Rouge lawmaker says heroin use is becoming a major problem in Louisiana and the rising number of deaths from overdoses is extremely alarming.

"The coroner gave some graphic testimony about how they're arriving on the scene to collect kids who still have needles in their arms and overdosed on this stuff," said Claitor.
A judge would still be able to dictate the sentence based on the circumstances, this bill would just allow them to impose 99 years if they choose.

Currently those convicted on heroin charges couldn't get more than 50 years but Claitor says that's not enough. He says Louisiana needs to send a strong message that possessing or selling heroin is a serious crime here.

"If you want to kill a snake you don't cut the tail off you cut the head off," Claitor said.

Claitor says since it's becoming harder for people to access opiates through pharmacies and doctors due to a major state crackdown, users are turning to heroin.

He says more awareness needs be spread to Louisianians emphasizing what a very dangerous drug this is.

"The people who are distributing heroin in my view are distributing death sentences," said Claitor. "When people are addicted to heroin, they never get off of it."
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Jindal/DHH announce launch of new health initiative campaign

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Jindal Administration launches a campaign that encourages schools, businesses and restaurants to help Louisiana citizens live healthier. Jindal says it's called the "Well-Ahead Health Initiative" and those entities that choose to participate would be considered a "Well Spot" if they meet a certain amount of criteria set forth by DHH.

"This includes making changes like going tobacco free, providing access to gyms or simply offering healthy food choices," Jindal said. "These are places where Louisiana residents and consumers can go to knowing that they're health and wellness have been made a priority."

Jindal says DHH will publicly recognize each entity that becomes a "Well Spot" so that visitors know they are making a smart choice in bringing their business to a place that cares about their health.

He says this is all about making a person's health and wellness a NO. 1 so that Louisianians can live a longer, happier life.

"And we're not standing here and saying you can't enjoy our great food and culture," said Jindal. "It's all about moderation."

Jindal says this initiative is going to go a long way towards improving the nutrition of Louisianians.

DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says one of the Well-Ahead goals is to empower Bayou State citizens to make informed decisions on where they choose to eat, work and play.

"I think all of us can do this by making little small changes in our lifestyle," Kliebert says. "Whether it's changes we make on a yearly basis or a monthly basis...little changes we make in our lifestyle will help us all live longer."

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Spring takes a break, as cold air returns

Chilly weather is back in the bayou state today as a result of that strong cold front that produced severe weather across the state yesterday. State Climatologist Barry Keim says make sure you have a jacket with you today as highs will only be in the low 60s.

"In fact I would expect most places to be 60,61,62 degrees and that should be uniform across the state," Keim said. "Afternoon temperatures will bounce up a little bit, but tomorrow morning will be even colder than this morning."
Keim says the good news is that the cold weather should only last for a couple of days, as spring line weather returns on Thursday.
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52% of poll respondents do not want Edwards as a Congressman

52-percent of those surveyed said that they would NOT vote for former governor Edwin Edwards, while 31-percent said they would vote for him.  LSU Political Science Professor Kirby Goidel was a little surprised by the poll.

"It could be worse.  So, yeah, 52-percent negative is not as high as I thought it would have been."
The survey has 32-percent of respondents voting for Edwards, 11-percent for Paul Dietzel and another 11-percent for state Senator Dan Claitor.  The election will be held November 4 and Goidel says it is too early to have a definitive picture of the race.

"Remember we're early in the process and there's a lot of campaigning yet to be done and it's not clear which of the candidates will really emerge and emerge in a strong fashion."
The poll was paid for by Dietzel and conducted by JMC Analytics.

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Tax day tips and reminders

Michelle Southern reporting.
Today is tax day and there are millions of Americans who still haven't filed and are waiting till the last minute. If that's you then IRS spokeswoman Lea Crusberg has some tips. She says if you plan to file electronically, it must be done by midnight tonight. Crusberg says more than 85% of Louisianians will be filing electronically.
Crusberg says if you make less than $58,000 a year, you can log on to irs.gov and choose from 14 different commercial software companies and file your taxes for free. She says three out of four filers get refunds and they are issued within 21 days for the most part.

Crusberg says if there is no way you can get your returns done today, you at least need to file an extension. She says you can download the proper form, which is form 4868, from their website irs.gov.

She says even if you file an extension and don't get your paperwork in, you still have to pay what you owe today.

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Jindal explains the need for McAllister to resign

Governor Jindal explains why he is calling for embattled Congressman Vance McAllister to resign, but is not connecting McAllister's act of infidelity with republican senator David Vitter's prostitution scandal. At a press conference Monday, Jindal was asked why republicans were not calling for Vitter's resignation in 2007.

 "I know there are folks, there are Democrats and others trying to link the two issues," Jindal said. "I'm not going to go down that path. I think the issue before us is the congressman's actions."
The leader of the Democratic House caucus, state representative John Bel Edwards of Amite, said last week that Jindal and republican party chairman Roger Villere are being hypo hypocritical. Jindal says there are democrats and others are trying to link the two issues, but he's not going down that path. 
"I personally call for him to resign, but I can't speak for the party. I think it would be in the best interest of the Congressman, the state and the House of Representatives."
McAllister has yet to make a public appearance, since video was released that showed him kissing a former staffer. He was expected to meet with a tea party group in Ruston Monday, but reportedly missed the event, to take part in family counseling. Jindal says if McAllister wants time to work out these issues, then he needs to step down.
"The best way for him to get that privacy and time is to resign from Congress." 


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Bill requiring dogs to be restrained in the beds of trucks on interstates advances out of committee

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill that would require dogs to be secured in the beds of pickup trucks traveling on interstates clears committee 13-2 Monday morning. The measure is once again being proposed by Kenner Representative Tom Willmott. He says he's been searching the internet for stories about dogs flying out of trucks.

"I was shocked to see how much this happens," said Willmott. "These dogs actually get skinned from being dragged along the ground. It's horrifying."

Willmott says this law would apply to interstates only. He says the bill also doesn't limit the way the owner chooses to restrain the dog such as in a crate or a tether of appropriate length.

Dry Creek Representative Dorothy Sue Hill opposed the bill.

"As you know I represent a redneck area and we have a lot of hunters and all they have to do is say 'Load up dog,'" said Hill.

Hill says some dogs ride better in vehicles than children do and many hunters in her rural area would not be happy with a law like this.

New Iberia Representative Terry Landry likes the bill and says it's not about telling dog owners what they can or can't do, but this is a public safety issue.

"We can also assume that sometimes out of fear animals will do things that are irrational like jumping onto the road causing major incidents," said Landry.

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Wild police chase in northwest Louisiana ends with the arrest of a Texas man

Several law enforcement agencies in northwest Louisiana were involved in a high speed pursuit with an armed robbery suspect during the overnight hours. The chase ended with a gunfire and the suspect in the hospital. Caddo Parish Sheriff's office spokesperson Cindy Chadwick says the armed man has been identified as Terry Leroy Smith from Spring, Texas.

"A deputy from the Caddo Sheriff's Office as well as a deputy from the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's office, both fired at this individual, he was struck in foot and the leg and suffered non-life threatening injuries." 
Chadwick says Smith was armed with a loaded handgun and pointed it at deputies and officers, before being shot.
The 46-year-old man was transported to a local hospital for injuries received as a result of the pursuit
"He faces numerous charges by both parishes and he's being investigated for violent crimes that occurred in both Shreveport and Bossier City." 
 The wild episode apparently started last night in Shreveport when Smith allegedly stole a woman's purse in a parking lot of business and then fired a gunshot, hitting the woman's tire. Chadwick says Smith was later spotted in a suspicious vehicle at an oil well site in DeSoto Parish and that's when the chase ensued and ended in north Caddo Parish. 


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Lafayette PD seeking information regarding mysterious death of Grambling student

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Lafayette Police Department continues to investigate the death of a young Grambling State student who was found in a ditch at Girard Park early Sunday morning. Corporal Paul Mouton says a friend was supposed to meet up with 21-year-old Alexandria Shelton around 8:30pm Saturday but the victim never showed up.
(picture of Alex Shelton sent by GSU media relations)

"About three hours later they became concerned and called her phone," said Mouton. "A male answered the call and said he'd found it in Girard Park in Lafayette."

Mouton said when the friend went to the park to get the phone from two men, he also saw Shelton's car and contacted police.

"We did an area search of the park and we located the body of the 21-year-old in a small retention type pond off the main pond," Mouton said.

Mouton says the cause of death has not yet been determined and they are waiting for autopsy results to come in.

He says they interviewed the two men who found the phone and they are not considered persons of interest in the case.
A release from Grambling indicates Shelton was a 3.5 GPA student who was set to graduate May 9th in criminal justice.

Lafayette PD is asking for anyone with information on this case to contact authorities.

"Although this is a suspicious death, we have not ruled out foul play in this incident," said Mouton.

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State lawmaker goes after so-called speed trap in St. Landry Parish

The House Transportation committee is scheduled to hear a bill this morning that would designate a section of I-49 in St. Landry Parish as a "Slow Down Speed Trap." The bill is by Shreveport Representative Alan Seabaugh, who explains why he introduced the bill even though the section of highway is not in his district.
"It affects people from my district, people from all over north Louisiana have called me since we filed the bill telling me stories of friends and relatives and co-workers who got tickets for going one, two, three, four miles over the speed limit."

 The proposed law calls for the Department of Transportation to place signage near the Washington exit reflecting the highway designation.  Seabaugh says a family from his district had a bad experience in this area.
"They were coming home from an LSU game a few months later and her son was in the back seat actually videotaping the speedometer going about three miles under the speed limit and she was pulled over and told she was going four miles over."
Seabaugh believes that the town of Washington is not using the speed limit laws as they were intended.
"What we have is a community who is legitimately attempting to raise the money, using the speed limit to pay for their city government on the backs of people who are not from their area who are just driving through." 
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Willmott: Dogs need to be secured in trucks on interstates

Michelle Southern reporting.
A lawmaker from Kenner wants people to be required to have a dog secured in a humane manner when the animal is in the back of a pickup truck traveling on the interstate. Representative Tom Willmott's House Bill 1091 would do just that. He says dogs in the bed of a truck that is going a high rate of speed could be considered an unsecured load.

"That dog is going to become a flying object," said Wilmott.

Willmott says he's heard several stories about dogs flying out of trucks on interstates who then get run over and killed.

He also says these these types of incidents could cause serious crashes.

"The dog fell out in the middle of the road then then the truck actually rolled once the driver realized the dog had jumped out," said Willmott. "They slammed on the breaks causing the truck to flip and cause an accident."

Similar legislation was filed last year but it failed to pass.

Willmott says dogs should be properly restrained in the bed of a truck that is traveling on an interstate.

"As long as they are restrained in a humane way," said Willmott. "You could put them in a crate, you could put them on a leash, harness..whatever."

The measure will be heard today in the House Transportation Committee.

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