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Governor John Bel Edwards says colleges and hospitals will close and critical healthcare services will be eliminated if the state legislature does not approve higher taxes to help close a $940 million budget deficit this fiscal year. Edwards made the comments during a special address that was aired on TV and radio stations. 

“These are not scare tactics. This is reality- an unstable state budget will not only hurt children and working families in our state, it will devastate communities, businesses and local government as well,” Edwards said.

Edwards even suggested there would be no college football next fall because the players would not be able to complete their spring semester if colleges are forced to close before May. The governor says he is proposing significant cuts to the budget, but it will also take from the legislature to raise revenue in order to stabilize the budget.

“Tell your legislators we need a responsible fix for this budget- a balance of necessary cuts and responsible revenue that will make out budge realistic and our state strong,” Edwards said.

After Edwards spoke, State Treasurer John Kennedy provided the Republican Party’s response from the WVLA television studio in Baton Rouge. Kennedy says raising revenue is not the answer to the state’s budget problems.

“I don’t care how high they raise revenue. As long as they spend more money than they take in, they’re gonna run deficits,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy says there are plenty of areas the state can reduce spending and he has provide the legislature with ample suggestions.

“Now I’ve sent the governor and each legislator over 400 different ideas and suggestions about how they can reduce spending without hurting anyone,” Kennedy said.

 
 

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Louisiana is experiencing one of its slowest flu seasons in several years. That’s according to Dr. Frank Welch, an influenza expert with the state department of health and hospitals. Welch says doctors are seeing very few flu cases.

“We are at very few flu cases. We're down around 2%, and what that means is 2 out of every 100 visits to a doctor or hospital are for flu-like illness,” Welch said. 

This slow season comes in stark contrast to last year’s terrible flu season, which exerts said was one of the worst.

Welch says that the flu virus can be unpredictable, but this season has been off to a slow start. He credits this year’s warmer weather for the low number of flu cases.

“Certainly the warmer weather around the country is noted for keeping people outdoors. It's when in gets cold that people stay shut in that the disease spreads a lot better,” Welch said.

Welch says that more people were vaccinated for the flu this year, which may be another contributing factor for this year’s slow flu season. He advises people to get flu vaccines to keep the number of flu cases at a minimum.

“If you haven't gotten one yet, just as an added precaution if the flu season gets a lot busier, you can still be protected by getting that flu shot,” Welch said.  

The peak of the Flu season in Louisiana typically peaks in late February or early March. Welch says we will not be out of the woods until early April.

 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Now that the giant burn chamber has arrived at Camp Minden, the process of disposing of the millions of pounds of M6 propellant can begin. Louisiana National Guard spokesman Col Pete Schneider says it will take about 4 days to get the massive structure installed.


"Then we'll go through and make sure that all the connections are connected, all the seals are sealing and all the filters are properly operating," said Schneider.

The 400,000 pound tank made the journey by road from the Port of Natchitoches to Minden this week, and Schneider says they've had fantastic cooperation from communities, law enforcement and utility companies affected by the move.

He says they expect it will take about 30-35 days to make sure everything is working properly.

"Once that is done, we should be able to begin full scale burning," said Schneider.

Explosive Service International is in charge of the contained burn and Schneider says their intent is to burn non-stop once they check then double check that everything is in order.

"As long as they're operating within the safe parameters, and everything is functioning properly, they will burn 24-7 those 16 million pounds," said Schneider.
 
 

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The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance has notified colleges and universities that due to uncertainty over potential budget cuts they are holding off on making any TOPS payments. Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says it would be a huge disaster for Louisiana if it’s unable to pay a TOPS recipients full tuition for this semester.

“It’s hard to imagine how the state’s gonna justify to parents that something that was promised to them is now being taken away,” Pinsonat said.

A spokesperson for the office of student financial assistance says the suspension of TOPS payments to public colleges is just a precautionary measure. Pinsonat says the state’s taxpayer funded scholarship program is very popular and this development will have TOPS recipients alarmed.

“I think they’re gonna have to give the public a lot more reasonable explanation than warning the universities. What about talking to the parents of these kids? It’s almost outrageous,” Pinsonat said.

Pinsonat says he can’t see how the state doesn’t fufill its promise that they would pay a student’s full tuition if they reached certain academic achievements.

“I would thinkthis is gonna be a pretty interesting firestorm, and I don’t know why they’re doing this at this point in time without more warning and more explanation,” Pinsonat said.

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The State Department of Health and Hospitals is investigating two possible Zika cases in Louisiana. Dr. Frank Welch, with the Louisiana Office of Public Health, says officials learned of these two cases after the patients complained to their doctors about feeling ill after visiting the Caribbean.

“Fortunately, in adults who are not pregnant, it’s a very mild illness. They have completely recovered,” Welch said.

Neither of the patients required hospitalization and they were counseled to avoid mosquito bites, so the disease doesn’t spread in Louisiana. Welch says at this point, Louisiana residents shouldn’t be concerned about getting the Zika Virus, because local transmission is very unlikely at this time….

“This disease is mostly spread through a particular type of mosquito, which is not active in Louisiana right now,” Welch said.

Most people who get the Zika virus are unaware they have it. Welch says it’s a mild illness, but it can cause birth defects if pregnant women are infected. He says Zika could become a problem in Louisiana when the weather gets warmer.

“The bad news is this type of mosquito is active in Louisiana in the summer. So we really want to pay attention. We want to be prepared,” Welch said.

Welch encourages people to do what they can to prevent the spread of the virus by wearing long sleeves and bug repellent, avoiding standing water, and watching for possible Zika symptoms.

 
 
 

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After an identity hearing in California today, a judged has ruled Frank Selas is former Monroe TV personality “Mr. Wonder” who is accused of committing sex crimes in Louisiana in the 70s. Lt. Tommy Carnline with the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office says now the process of getting Selas back to Louisiana begins.

“If he waves extradition, it’ll be pretty simple we’ll just extradite him back to Louisiana. If he fights extradition then we’ll have to go through a proceeding called a governor’s warrant.”

Mr. Wonder was living in San Diego at the time he was arrested. Carnline says everyone in Rapides Parish is anxious to get Selas back in Louisiana.


“We knew it was him and we’re just very pleased. This is just one more step to bringing people just who have been needing justice for the last 37 years.”

 
 
 

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Louisiana Researchers have played a role in detecting gravitational waves, which Albert Einstein predicted would occur as part of his general theory of relativity. LSU astronomy professor, Gabriela Gonzalez, says their observatory in Livingston Parish observed the ripples in the fabric of spacetime on September 14th.

“Not only that we detected gravitational waves, but these waves were produced by the coalescence of black holes,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzales says two black holes colliding some one-point-three billion years ago created the gravitational wave that was detected in Livingston Parish and at another facility in Washington…

“From the amplitude of the waveform you can tell how far away the system was. It was more than a billion lightyears away,” Gonzalez said. 

Instruments recorded the sound of the black holes colliding. All it is was a “chirp” that lasted less than a second. But Gonzales says this type of discovery can help scientists learn more about how the universe works.

“Now that we have detectors able to detect these systems, now that we know binary black holes are out there, we’ll begin listening to the universe,” Gonzalez said.

 
 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
Louisiana is going through some major financial trouble right now, but analysts say we aren't the first or last state to see issues like this. Political pollster Ron Faucheux says most states have improved their fiscal situation since the the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.


"So even though Louisiana isn't in it by ourselves, for the most part it is an exception to where things are right now," said Faucheux. "Most other states have rebounded."

Governor John Bel Edwards is broadcasting a rare address this evening to let the public know exactly what Louisiana is facing.

The projected shortfall for this fiscal year is around $870 million dollars, and the budget year that begins July 1st is short about $2 billion.

Faucheux says, unlike Louisiana, other states struggle when gas prices are high.

"Another thing too with Louisiana is that, at a time when other states were experiencing a down turn economically, there was a lot of federal and FEMA money being pumped into the state after the hurricane," said Faucheux.

Faucheux says this doesn't mean Louisiana is isolated from the rest of the nation, but economic waves tend to be felt here on a different time table. He says raising taxes and cutting spending are quick ways to rebound, but money matters here run much deeper.

"The problem is that Louisiana has serious structural fiscal problems," said Faucheux. "And we're lurching from crisis to crisis when we need structural fiscal reform."
 
 
 
 

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State Police is partnering with Blue Cross to help with the safe disposal of prescription medication in central and northwest Louisiana. Trooper Michael Reichardt says in the front of the Troop F station in Monroe they’ve set out a box similar to a mail box for people to safely discard old or unwanted medication. He says the abuse of prescription medication in teens has become a growing problem.

“They just go in your medicine cabinet in your house and get whatever drugs you have in there. So, we’re trying to combat that. Ages 12 to 17, prescription drugs are the number one substance of abuse for their age group.”

Reichardt says the normal methods of flushing old prescriptions down the toilet or throwing them in the trash are still effective. He says this is just an additional option of getting rid of the medications.


“You know if they live close to the troop, they’re not sure what to do with it, not sure where to take it, you can bring it to our office.”

Reichardt says drop boxes are outside of Troop E and F stations in Monroe and Alexandria. He says they won’t take any needles or intravenous drugs in the boxes.

“Of course no illicit substances. Marijuana, methamphetamines, stuff like that. The stuff that we’re going to take is the stuff prescribed by a doctor.”

 
 
 

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The fast food chain Burger King announces they’ll add hot dogs to their menu starting February 23rd. LSU Marketing Professor Dan Rice says McDonald’s just went to all day breakfast and this is Burger King’s way of opening a new market.

“They’re trying not so much to focus on offering in the breakfast terms but compete in another way to expand their sales by saying ‘you’re already here, what better goes with a burger than a grilled dog?’”

Fast food chain Sonic also sells hot dogs, but they have a lot of varieties. Rice says Burger King decided to only offer the classic grilled hot dog and the chili cheese dog. 

“They’re hoping that those will be big sale items. They had considered going with multiple product offerings but found in the test markets that maybe those just didn’t react they thought they did.”

Rice says t remains to be seen how well the hot dogs will do, but Burger King is calling it their biggest launch since the chicken sandwich in the 70s.


“The test markets in some of the big cities they had last year seemed to be pretty positive. So, they’re hopeful that for this launch it’s a pretty good sized segment.”

 
 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards will address Louisiana citizens tonight to discuss the state’s historic budget deficit. This address comes ahead of the special legislative session that begins Sunday, where lawmakers will have to come up with a plan to combat an 870-million dollar budget deficit.  UL Lafayette political science professor Pearson Cross says that this kind of speech is unprecedented.

“It’s definitely gonna get the public’s attention because it is so unprecedented. Secondly, it’s gonna really let the legislature know that the eyes of the people are likely to be on them,” Cross said.

Louisiana needs to boost state revenue and make cuts to the current budget to resolve the $870 million budget shortfall, which must be filled by June 30th. Cross says this will be a difficult task for legislatures.

“We need revenue. We need some budgetary things that are gonna be hard to get through.”

The address will be aired at 6:30 pm on major television and radio stations. Cross says that the Governor’s address should make the public aware of the magnitude of the current budget crisis.

“It alerts everyone to the gravity of the situation. I think it’s time for no more business as usual,” Cross said.

 
 
 

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A Baton Rouge lawmaker has filed a bill for the regular session that seeks to change the state constitution to allow Louisiana residents to possess a concealed handgun without needing a permit. Republican State Representative Barry Ivey says that this law would apply only to non-felon residents.


“It eliminates the crime of illegal concealed carry without a permit, but only for people who are law-abiding citizens, number one. Number two, are not otherwise prohibited from of a firearm,” Ivey said.

Current Louisiana law allows residents 21 and over to carry a non-concealed handgun without a permit. A concealed carry permit requires completion of a safety course and payment of a $125 fee for a 5 year permit. Ivey attempted to pass a similar bill to stop requiring a permit in 2014 but was unsuccessful. He says this time he has a much better chance.

“There is a more coordinated effort this time around that there was two years ago,” Ivey said.

Ivey’s proposed constitutional amendment would need two-thirds approval in the House and Senate and a majority vote from the public. Ivey has been collecting signatures for a petition on this issue for the past two years. He says public support will have a huge impact on passing the bill and encourages voters to contact their legislatures.

“I believe that the biggest factor that will help with this effort would be the engagement of the people of Louisiana,” Ivey said.

 

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Fresh off his primary win in New Hampshire, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump will hold a rally tonight at the Baton Rouge River Center. Political Analyst John Couvillion says new life has been breathed into Trump’s campaign, but to get the nomination, he’ll need to outperform Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the southern states.

“Donald Trump’s visit to Baton Rouge Thursday is an admission that Louisiana will certainly play an important part in the presidential race in the immediate aftermath of Super Tuesday on March 1st.”

The Louisiana Presidential Primary election is March 5th. Couvillion explains why Trump is visiting Louisiana tonight, when the next primary is in South Carolina.


“So I think that he is basically thinking the long game now. In other words, he’s starting to think ahead to those primaries in March and April when the race will be concluded.”

Couvillon expects the tonight’s rally in downtown Baton Rouge to be packed with supporters. He says the record turnout of Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire shows we’ll likely see engaged primary voters attending.

“A packed house in Baton Rouge will be further confirmation of my opinion of that trend.”

 
 
 

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LSU had its opportunities to beat 20th ranked South Carolina on their home floor, but the Tigers missed too many free throws and couldn't get some key stops and lost to the Gamecocks 94-83.
 
The 90 points are the most LSU has given up in SEC play, as USC shot 48% from the field. 
 
The Tigers poor free throw shooting was a factor in the loss as LSU shot 57% from the charity stripe, 16-of-28 from the free throw line.

For the second straight game, LSU was led offensively by freshman Antonio Blakeney, who had 22 points and nailed 4 three-pointers. LSU's other freshman starter, Ben Simmons, had 20 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists.
 
Keith Hornsby added 14 points and hit 3 three-pointers.
 
Tigers guard Tim Quarterman had a rough game before fouling out. Quarterman had 7 points, missed all 5 three-pointers he took. Quarterman also had a couple of critical turnovers in the 2nd half.
 
Craig Victor II also fouled out and had six points on five rebounds.
 
The loss drops LSU's record to 8-3 in the SEC and they fall into a three-way tie for first place in the league with South Carolina and Kentucky.
 
The Tigers are in action again on Saturday afternoon against Texas A&M. The AGgies are struggling. They lost again on Wednesday to Alabama and have lost 4 of its last 5.  

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Louisiana's budget problems are getting worse. The Revenue Estimating Conference has revised the deficit for this fiscal year from 750-million to 870-million dollars. The legislature's chief economist Greg Albrecht says Louisiana's lagging economy is impacting state tax collections.


"For all practical purposes Louisiana is entering it's own recession, it's an oil-based recession. We have different cycle than the rest of the country and we entering what amounts to a state recession," Albrecht said.
 
The budget deficit for next fiscal year has swelled past two billion dollars. Low oil prices are to blame for the less than anticipated revenues, but that's not the only issue. Albrecht says corporate tax collections are also very week. 
 
State lawmakers will meet for a special session that starts on Sunday and attempt to come up with a rebalanced budget that takes into account the 870-million dollar shortfall. 

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Drive up ashes for people on this Ash Wednesday are becoming increasingly popular in our fast paced lives. LSU Religious Studies professor Michael Pasquier says that these mobile ash distribution sites are in response to busy lifestyles.

“I think in a way it’s just kind of a realistic reaction to the congregations,” Pasquier said.

Pasquier says that some churches may have to accept that members of the congregation do not have time for the regular Ash Wednesday services.

“Many churches today know that you’re not gonna get the cheeks in the seats, so to speak, unless you can tailor your services to meet the busy schedules of day to day life,” Pasquier said.

“If it means that they have to reduce the time it takes for them to do that then that sounds like it’s a decision that some churches are making,” Pasquier said.

Pasquier says that offering services like drive up ashes is something more churches might have to consider to cater to their members’ schedules. 
 

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Governor John Bel Edwards will discuss the state's huge budget deficit during a special address to the public that will air Thursday night at 6:30 on major television and radio stations. ULM Political Science Professor Dr. Joshua Stockley says it's rare for a governor of Louisiana to give a televised speech, but he needs to explain the situation to a mass audience.

“He’s hoping that by informing the public, the public will put pressure on the legislature and the legislature will come to the table to enact some of the reforms.”

Stockley says Governor Edwards will likely inform the public that we are in a severe fiscal crisis and there will be no easy solutions to fix this problem. He says difficult decisions will have to be made by the legislature. 

“Particularly in repealing some of our tax expenditures that have been inefficient. Perhaps even asking to raise certain taxes among the general public.”

Stockley says the governor is making an effort to restore the fiscal foundation of the state, without making huge cuts to higher education and health care.
 
“If we continue to do these things it will be more and more difficult to keep our brightest individuals within the state and simultaneously to lure companies to the state.”
 
 
 

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State lawmakers have started filing bills for the special session, and one of the first measures proposed would increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes another 22-cents to $1.08 per pack. West Monroe Representative Frank Hoffman says this tax will generate more state revenue and could save money on healthcare if the tax encourages people to quit smoking.

“So it brings in money immediately from the tax issue, but also, of course, it saves us in the long run on healthcare as well,” Hoffman said.

Last year lawmakers increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes by 50-cents. If the proposed bill passes, the tax will go into effect on April 1. Hoffman says the state needs the additional money from the tax this year as the state faces an 892-million dollar shortfall this year…

“We need the immediate help for the rest of this year, so we want to make that as quickly as possible,” Hoffman said.

The special session to address the state’s budget will start Sunday, and it will last three and half weeks. Hoffman says he’ll push a higher cigarette tax, but it is still important to make cuts in the budget while increasing revenue.

“I do think it’s very important that we look at cuts first where we can still cut the size of government down across the state,” Hoffman said.

 
 

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A member of the Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board says we could see one of the best years for crawfish out of the Atchafalaya basin in recent memory. Wild crawfish farmer Sherbin Collette of Henderson credits El Nino for providing warmer weather and high waters that will contribute to both the size and number of wild crawfish.

“So it’s El Nino that’s doing it because it’s very rare to get flood waters that early in the season, which in turn is gonna help in the basin,” Collette said.

The high waters flushed out many swamps that have not been fished in years, leading to an abundance of crawfish. Collette says the crawfish should be bigger this season because of the warmer, cleaner water in the basin.

“They haven’t fished them in a few years, and whatever’s gonna run there, it’s gonna be big crawfish. There’s no doubt about that,” Collette said.

Although the crawfish should be big and plentiful, don’t expect to see much of a drop in price. Collette explains that more people will be fishing for crawfish to make a living due to fewer jobs in the oil industry.

“Of course, people have to understand the price can go down a certain amount because if it goes down too much, the fishermen cant’ make it,” Collette said.

Crawfish season in Louisiana runs mid-January through early-July with the peak months being March, April and May.

 
 

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Michelle Southern reporting.
State Representative Mike Johnson, a Republican from Bossier City, announces his candidacy in the wide open 4th Congressional District race. The seat is being vacated by Congressman John Fleming who's running for US Senate. Political analyst Elliott Stonecipher says Johnson joins many other names that have expressed interest in the race.


"The next thing I want to know is how much money any of these people have," said Stonecipher. "Will they be self funded if they are otherwise relatively wealthy?"

Johnson gained name recognition after authoring the controversial "religious freedom" bill in the legislature. The measure failed but grew support from groups who oppose same-sex marriage, and criticism from those saying the bill would promote discrimination.

Stonecipher says these candidates will need to curry favor with voters in Caddo.

"Caddo Parish is not nearly as pointed toward those social issues as Bossier is," said Stonecipher.

Stonecipher says this is anyone's race as the voters of the 4th District aren't used to having so many candidates to choose from.

"People just didn't think John Fleming would be giving up this seat," said Stonecipher. "That's all flown open now and you're gonna have a rush I think."
 
 
 
 
 
 

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