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A House committee is expected today to hear Jonesboro Representative Jack McFarland’s legislation that would require Medicaid patients to pay a copay if they use an emergency room for non-emergency treatment. McFarland says the bill is an attempt to stop Medicaid patients from using the ER for a common cold or minor medical issues.

"The provider would know exactly where to tell this individual where to go if they can't pay the copay.  If the can pay the copay, they can stay right there in the emergency room. 

The New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America Health Care Chairman Haley Sauicer says Medicaid recipients don’t abuse the system in receiving care. 
 
"If someone on Medicaid is going to the emergency room for a non-emergency, it's because there isn't a doctor of facility in their area that is accepting Medicaid or new patients on Medicaid."
 
Sauicer says if Medicaid recipients are forced to meet copays in emergency rooms, they would be unable to receive the necessary medical care they need. 
 
"Most people that are on Medicaid don't have the money for a copay at all." 
 
McFarland points out that this bill would not apply in emergency situations such as a heart attack or stroke, but it would stop the abuse that some Medicaid patients have shown in the past. 
 
"You don't go to the emergency department for a runny nose, for just a common cold.  Many of the same things that the average tax paying constituent, we do not go to the ER for those things."
 
McFarland says his legislation will save millions of dollars a year and those savings can be used to pay doctors at partner hospitals, so they can treat Medicaid patients for minor medical care. 

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State Police is asking the public not to share unsubstantiated threats through social media. Senior Trooper Dustin Dwight says they encourage citizens to report suspicious activity, but they ask the public not to share unsubstantiated threats through social media because it creates chaos and panic.

 
"We don't want to discourage anybody from reporting any information but at the same time we would just like for them to look at that information and make a sound decision on how you share that information." 
 
Dwight says if you do see a threat and if it’s viewed as an imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1. If there is more investigation needed, other agencies will step in. He says citizens are more scared than usual right now and are reporting suspicious activity quicker. 
 
"We saw an arrest in Tangipahoa Parish where there have been credible threats.  But the majority of them have not been. And there certainly has been an uptick since the events in Florida."
 
Dwight says State Police in no way is discouraging people to report suspicious activity, but to be aware of where some of these threats originate.
 
"These threats could come from all over the nation and have no nexus to Louisiana." 
 
 

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After a rough weekend against Notre Dame, LSU Coach Paul Mainieri was looking for a solid start from Cam Sanders. That didn't happen, but LSU quickly recovered and cruised to a 14-6 victory over UNO at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
 
The game got off to a horrible start for Sanders and the Tigers. The right-hander from Thibodaux failed to record an out and gave up three runs. 


But relief pitcher Trent Vietmeier stopped the bleeding and threw three innings, allowing one run so LSU's bats can get going. 
 
The Tigers (2-2) scored three runs in the first inning as UNO's starter Zach Thompson also failed to record an out. LSU also added a run in the 2nd inning. 
 
The Bayou Bengals scored four runs in the 6th inning to take the lead, four more in the 7th inning and two more in the 8th inning. 
 
Ten different LSU hitters had at least one hit. And ten different Tiger hitters had at least one RBI. 
 
Antoine Duplantis and Daniel Cabrera each drove in two runs and had two hits to lead the way. 
 
Starting center fielder Zach Watson did not play after suffering an injury in batting practice. The injury is not considered serious. 
 
LSU will host 19th ranked Texas for a three-game series that will start on Friday at the Box.  
 
 
 
 

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The special session ground to a halt Wednesday after a vote on a tax reform bill that would have kept a quarter of the one penny sales tax intact, and remove some of the special sales tax exemptions for specific industries was postponed indefinitely. LaPolitics.com publisher Jeremy Alford says it was the bill with the most momentum, and its failure could tank the entire session.

“Right now the entire session itself is on shaky ground itself, because no one knows if the Ways and Means Committee is going to go back and vote on these measures again.”

The tax measure would have plugged 300 million dollars of the one-billion dollar looming budget gap.

Lawmakers were optimistic heading into the capitol Monday, but Alford says the political realities of an impending election and a bitter partisan divide didn’t take long to grind the session to a halt.

“There’s a lot of politics at play, because you have a governor who’s up for reelection next year. Is a compromise possible? You would hope so and you would think so, but I don’t think it’s such a simple matter.”

Alford says if the session burns out without a solution, the legislature’s failure to work together to find a deal could become campaign talking point for Edwards’ 2019 re-election campaign.

“The governor didn’t have to call this session but he did anyway. At the end of the day maybe that’s a political strategy for him, he’ll be able to tell voters, look I called them into a fifth special session and put some tax ideas on the table they were just unable to go along with it.”

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Governor John Bel Edwards addresses the issue of gun control during his monthly call-in radio show. Edwards says in the wake of the latest mass shooting in Florida, he’s calling for a more robust background check system for firearm purchases.

“The things that I have consistently said is that I really believe that we ought to look at the background check system. Common sense measures like this enjoy the support of upwards of 80 percent of the people.”

Edwards says he would like to see a purchasing ban for those on the No-Fly list, and firearm bans for those who commit violent crimes, and have a history of mental illness.

Edwards also came out against aftermarket additions that alter the capabilities of legally purchased automatic rifles.

“I think devices like the bump stock ought not to be legal because we don’t allow fully automatic weapons to be sold to people.”

Florida shooter Nickolas Cruz was 18-years-old when he lawfully purchased ten rifles from South Florida dealers. Edwards says legislators may need to look at increasing the legal purchasing age for such weapons.

“We have two ages for adult hood, ones 18, ones 21, depending on the activity. I don’t know if I have a firm opinion on that but I would think that it’s a reasonable question to ask and it’s something that we should consider.”

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The State Department of Education is launching the “Be Irreplaceable. Be a Teacher” campaign. Teacher of the Year Kim Eckert announced the 100-thousand-dollar campaign which is an effort to convince high school and college students to make a career in the teaching profession.
 
"There aren't that many careers where you have a direct impact or a direct pulse on what you want the future to look like."
 
Eckert says DOE will attempt to attract Generation Z about the prestige of the teaching career through television, radio and billboard ads and their website. 
 
"If we really allow education to take it's place and teachers to take their place in a prestigious field, that that message needs to be promoted as well."
 
Eckert says it’s a challenge to bring in new teachers to Louisiana, since nearby states pay an average of 17-hundred-dollars more. She says it can be overcome by urging teachers to speak openly with lawmakers and education officials and that starts with this campaign.
 
"I think that the more we elevate the profession and the more we really build up and attract the best and the brightest who have a passion for some much more than teaching content, I think the better that conversation is going to be."

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Automotive insurance rates are on the rise again, after the Louisiana Department of Insurance approved double-digit hikes last year for at least six insurance companies. State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon says there are several factors, including an increase in distracted driving.
 
"The National Safety Council reported 40,000 people killed in traffic accidents in 2017.  That's up six-percent from two years before in 2015."
Other factors include cheap gas, which leads to more drivers on the road and the cost of auto repairs have skyrocketed with newer technology on late model cars. Donelon says rates go up faster in Louisiana because the state’s legal climate leads to litigation a lot of times following accidents.
 
"Folks are more prone to sue over accidents."
 
Donelon says State Farm Insurance accounts for 30 percent of Louisiana insured drivers are paying on average ten-percent starting this month. Donelon advises motorists to shop around if they think their rates are too high. 
 
"I get told by State Farm agents, when State Farm increases their rates, their policies fly out the door in large numbers." 

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A bill to create a transparency tool called Louisiana Checkbook passed the House Appropriations committee, and may be considered on the House floor later this week. The program closely mirrors Ohiocheckbook.com, where Ohio residents are presented a detailed report about state expenses. House Speaker Taylor Barras says it’s a user friendly tool for the public.

“Probably one of the most interactive tools out there for gathering the financial data of state agencies, and that’s a wide range.”

Barras says the checkbook would provide detailed information on individual state agencies’ budgets, and allow people to compare expenses across those agencies.

“Being able to compare, being able to aggregate, and being able to communicate through social media, the things that are on that system.”

But Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says the state already has the tools in place to provide some of those services without having to contract with a third party. He says the cost of the program has yet to be revealed.

“There are going to be some fiscal issues that I know all of you are very cognizant of.”

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Attorney General Jeff Landry and Governor John Bel Edwards have agreed to coordinate efforts to bring litigation against opioid manufacturers, who they feel are responsible for the epidemic that’s claiming hundreds of Louisianans lives every year.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Bill Stiles says the state is seeking damages for costs incurred in the Medicaid program due to opioid addiction and abuse.

“We’re going to be looking at any and all claims that the state can bring for reimbursement of costs that the taxpayers have paid wrongfully in our opinion for these prescriptions.”

Stiles hopes to expand the scope of the lawsuit into all state services effected, including corrections and family services.

Stiles says the suit is in the interest of all Louisianans, as the opioid epidemic is a problem that cuts across racial and class lines.

“We have people in Louisiana dying from this addiction and it impacts everyone from one part of the socio-economic scale to the other.”

Stiles is optimistic that the suit will be successful in attacking the root of the epidemic, and help the state recoup the heavy cost of opioid addiction.

The lawsuit is the result of an 18 month multi state investigation involving 42 other attorney generals.

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Tangipahoa Parish School Board member Mike Whitlow is facing heavy backlash to his decision to post a picture of a noose on his public Facebook page. The picture was accompanied with the caption: “If we want to make America great again, we will have to make evil people fear punishment again.”

 
Fellow board member Louis Joseph says it was an incredibly bad idea.

“(I’m) astounded, upset, and I could not understand why an elected official would do something like that.”

Joseph says that kind of behavior is unacceptable for someone in a position of authority.

“And for a sitting school board member to post this is reprehensible.”

Whitlow says the post was not racially motivated, and was only inspired by an article he read that called for stiffer prison sentences for violent offenders. He says he's taken the appropriate steps to remedy the situation.

“(I) deleted it from Facebook and issued an apology. Anyone who may have been offended by it, it certainly wasn’t my intent.”

Whitlow says negative reactions to his post are misplaced, and that he has no intention of stepping down.

“I do not have any intent to resign. In my heart I knew I had no ill intent in this.”

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After hitting the Southern average for teacher’s salaries back in 2007, Louisiana has fallen behind. Teachers are now paid $1,700 less than other teachers in the region. With a one-billion-dollar shortfall, it’s unlikely any extra money will go towards the 47,000 public school teachers.
 
Legislative and Political Director for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers Cynthia Posey says the state’s teachers are lured away by higher wages elsewhere.

"They may go to say Texas, who pays a higher average, or they may leave the teaching force altogether and go to a different type of job."
 
Posey says teachers are in the profession to changes lives. She says even though it isn’t all about the money, they have bills to pay and families to take care of. 
 
"They do it because they love teaching.  And they're wonderful at educating our children, but again they have to be paid a fair wage."
 
Posey is hopeful that legislators find a way to keep elementary and secondary education fully funded while they seek a way to keep from falling off the fiscal cliff.
 
"We need to make sure we have a fair and more stable tax system and again to protect the statutory and constitutional dedication that fund public education in Louisiana."
 
 

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US Presidents pardon turkeys on Thanksgiving, Louisiana pardons a crawfish early in the crawfish season. The crawfish will be allowed to live his life out peacefully. Today's event was sponsored by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and Zatarain’s. Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser says “Emile” is lucky to be picked for the “annual pardoning of the crawfish”. 

"We named the crawfish Emile after the founding of Zatarain's who came up the crawfish boil over a hundred years ago.  And we will let that crawfish go in the state park while the rest of his family is boiled alive."
 
Several were in attendance to witness the proclamation, including representatives of the Louisiana Seafood Board and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at the old U.S. Mint in New Orleans. Nungesser says not everyone understands the event. During a visit to the White House, he tried to explain it to Vice President Mike Pence.
 
"I told him the story and he said 'Son, what the hell are you talking about?'  So I don't think the Vice-President really understood what we were doing with the crawfish in comparison with what the President does with a turkey every Thanksgiving."
 
Prices usually start on the high end during the early part of the season, but Nungesser is confident they won’t stay high for much longer. 
 
"We think those big crawdaddies are going to come out of the mud and we're going to really see it start to become plentiful which will drive the price down." 

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North Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham made no bones about his intentions to take a hard look at running for Governor. On the day when Governor John Bel Edwards took center stage at the capitol and opened the special legislative session, Abraham decided to take a swipe at his potential opponent while speaking to the Baton Rouge Press club.

“For me it boils down to something simple. The thing that I hear more and more than anything else is a lack of trust.”

Abraham says Edwards position on how to pull the state out of the billion dollar deficit is proof positive Edwards is not being truthful.

“Taxes, for sure the sales tax. When somebody tells you something they should do something. When they tell you something and they do something different, I have a problem with that.”

Abraham says in the days of lightning fast social media Louisiana voters are less likely to consider where a candidate is from and more likely to hear his message.

“We don’t care anymore where a candidate is from as long as they tell us the truth and are honest with us.”

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The State Transportation Department will soon begin work on the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles. DOTD spokesperson Rodney Mallett says they will replace the expansion joints on the bridge starting March 3rd, initially closing one eastbound lane. The bridge is nearly 60 years old. He says this work on I-10 is part of a large scale job they plan to perform. 

"One of the reasons that we're doing this here on the I-10 because in the near future the I-210 bypass is going to have to be redecked."
 
Officials hope to minimize the amount of accidents during the construction. Mallett says it’s important that drivers pay attention while driving in the work zone to avoid adding delays. 
 
"Although we do anticipate delays, a crash in a one-lane on the interstate would cause even further delays." 
 
There are a few options for drivers to circumvent I-10 if they want to avoid the extra congestion.
 
"LA 27 to LA 12, or using the I-210 bypass in Lake Charles.  Both of those will probably come in handy at some point."
 
The project is expected to be completed in four to six months.
 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards addressed the legislature, calling on the state’s governing body to put party politics aside to fix the impending fiscal cliff that triggers July 1st after a series of sales taxes expire. If no deal is struck, TOPS, higher Ed, and healthcare would see massive cuts. Edwards says it’s time to put party aside for the future of the state.

“My number one goal is to put this problem behind us so we can get back to the business of making this state an even better place to live, but I need you to follow through with your end of the bargain and work with me. “

The governor called on lawmakers to adopt his plan that would reduce the state sales tax, and replace the funds by widening the tax base, removing certain business sales tax exemptions, and compressing income tax brackets. Edwards says funding popular state programs should be every legislator’s objective.

“I think we can summon the courage to replace 994 million dollars to fully fund TOPS, stabilize support for higher education, and adequately fund healthcare and other critical priorities.”

Because the fiscal cliff is a revenue issue, it must be addressed in a special session. Edwards says putting a deal off until a possible June special session would have major repercussions for the 2018-2019 college academic year.

“There are thousands of parents who lie awake at night waiting for us to act so they can prepare to send their kids off to college next fall. “

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Three teens have been arrested in connection with two alleged social media threats made against Tangipahoa Parish Schools. Sheriff Daniel Edwards says a 17-year-old female and another juvenile are charged in spreading a post that said, “Don’t go to school Monday. A school shooting is going to happen and they are warning everyone.” Edwards says that resulted his deputies sweeping the school before allowing students on campus.

"We went through a bunch of the schools in the middle of night to search the schools, to make sure there was no one hiding in the school, make sure no one was storing guns being stored in the school or anything like that for something bad to happen.  So we did that all through the night."
 
Edwards says 18-year-old Troy Webber of Amite was arrested in separate incident after he allegedly told some persons he was going to shoot a bunch of students at school Monday. 
"We went to that particular person and they readily admitted they made the comment.  But said they had no intentions on carrying that out.  The fact that they made the statement, we had to book that person on terrorizing as well."
 
Edwards says the important message in all this is for parents to be watchful as to what their kids talk about and pass out on social media. 
 
"If they see a post like that, don't share it with anyone.  Just notify your local law enforcement agency.  Turn it over to them, that way you won't be breaking the law and you'll be helping the sheriff's office." 

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The Senate Democratic Caucus offers a solution on solving the one-billion dollar shortfall. Chairman Troy Carter proposes compressing income tax brackets, removing sales tax exemptions that benefit some businesses and expand the sales tax base, so certain services are taxed.

“The more we balance this across the board the less people individually have to hurt.”

Carter, who is a state senator from New Orleans, says the Democratic Caucus offers up this plan, because they oppose any effort to renew the temporary one-cent sales tax. He says the changing of income tax brackets would not mean a huge increase in taxes for higher income wage earners.

“Very small amount across the board as opposed to sales taxes that hit the poorest of the poor at the same rate that it hits the richest of the rich.”

But Director for the Louisiana Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, John Kay, says the Senate Democratic Caucus proposal would raise income taxes on the middle class by 50-percent.

“In my opinion its one of the most destructive ways to address the fiscal cliff. If you are going to raise taxes in Louisiana, which I wish they wouldn’t, this is the worst way to do that.”

Kay doesn't see how this tax plan will get the 70 votes needed in the House, especially when many legislators are looking at ways to reduce spending.

“This is a non-starter for most people in the House of Representatives, and I don’t see how they can ever get this passed through. It’s not a compromise at all.”

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Three Louisiana schools have received social media threats, with Ville Platte under lockdown due to one received this morning. Dutchtown and Ponchatoula High School were threatened in social media over the weekend. The Dutchtown threat was made by a former student living in another state. State Police Major Doug Cain says in light of the recent Florida school shooting that killed 17 making false threats is not a game and creates problems for law enforcement officials.
 
 
"The more false threats that we have, it muddies the water when we have a real threat out there.  So there's significant consequences to making these types of threats."
 
If a threat against a school is found to be false, Cain says they will investigate and if they find the person who made it, there will be consequences. 
 
"When we find out that a threat is bogus, we are going to do everything we can to determine who perpetrated that act and take action on it, because it cannot be tolerated."
 
None of the Louisiana schools in question were closed today. But Cain says each situation is evaluated on its own and safety of students for law enforcement and school administration is top priority.  
 
"Neither one of us are ever going to put our children or students in harms way, if we deem a credible threat at that school." 
 
The Dutchtown threat was made by a former student living in another state.
 

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The special session kicks off today to address a one-billion dollar shortfall. Legislators have until March 7th to find a fix to the looming fiscal cliff or else cuts will occur in the areas of higher education and health care. Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin says the governor has talked privately with House Speaker Taylor Barras on solutions, but...

 “I don’t think that means by any stretch that anything is a done deal, that they have worked anything out in terms of real detail.”

Early reports say legislators are making progress on a fix to the one billion dollar budget gap. Erwin says even though a deal isn’t currently on hand, he expects some agreement to be made.

“There are enough reason to get something done in February that will push them together to do that (fix the fiscal cliff), but you never know with this bunch.”

Edwards is calling for the replacement of the expiring sales taxes with permanent tax reform that would eliminate certain deductions for businesses, and the GOP wants spending reductions. Erwin doubts the governor will get the legislation he wants.

“I’m less optimistic that what they pass will be permanent or resemble much in the way of tax reform, and I think that is really unfortunate.”

Erwin says he doesn’t expect an agreement to be made that can secure the 70 House votes and the governor’s signature until late into the session.

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Governor Edwards and state lawmakers return to Baton Rouge Monday for a special session to find a solution to the looming fiscal cliff that threatens to gut popular programs like TOPS. The governor is seeking tax reform, and Republicans want spending reductions.

 Erath Representative Blake Miguez says the GOP caucus is demanding the creation of the Louisiana Checkbook.

“Every penny that is spent, you can go online and see bar graphs and charts, every dollar that is spent in state government. That should have happened a long time ago.”

He says the program would increase transparency, and would closely resembles Ohio’s Ohiocheckbook.com

Along with implementing Medicaid copays, tighter eligibility, and work requirements, Miguez says he also wants to see a state spending cap that is tied to private sector economic performance.

“Were not going to let state government outgrow the private sector, because we understand the private sector funds state government.”

Democrats say they will not allow a full renewal of the expiring one penny sales tax, as they feel it unfairly targets the poor. Franklin Representative and Democrat Sam Jones says he wants to see a budget deal that ensures crucial programs are not underfunded.

“(I want) A predictable budget where fully fund our hospitals, our education system, fully fund tops, and finally get to a point where we can give some attention to our infrastructure.”

Political analysts have warned that the special session could be a political minefield, with Republicans attempting to make sure the governor does not leave with a “win” that could propel him to another term in office. Jones says so far, the negotiations have been fair.

“Were not quite Washington yet, but we’ve had some Washington D.C. type moments.”

Shreveport Representative Republican Alan Seabaugh says he’s beginning to see the framework for a grand bargain.

“The one penny sales tax goes away, reinstituting a half penny which would be 440 million dollars, with half of that dedicated to funding TOPS.”

The special session ends March 7th.

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