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Drone bill passes Senate on second try

Michelle Southern reporting.
A day after rejecting a bill that would regulate certain drones in Louisiana, Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor ended up getting enough votes to advance his legislation Tuesday. SB330 would prohibit unmanned flying devices from taking pictures of private property with several exceptions.

Claitor wants laws to keep up with technology.

"The purpose of this bill is on the very basic level of," said Claitor. "Should someone be able to take a look in your backyard and through your back window simply because they have the technology to do it?"

Claitor says buying a device that can fly into your neighbors yard and look around is extremely easy and relatively inexpensive.

The legislation failed Monday by a vote of 21-15, then it passed yesterday 22-16.

New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson says you can't stop technology from happening.

"I don't think we can accomplish what you're trying to accomplish with this bill," said Peterson. "People can accomplish exactly what you're trying to prohibit, just not with a drone."

Claitor says he decided to bring the bill back up so he could better explain it.

He went over some of the exceptions to the law which include allowing drones to be used in agriculture, crime scene processing, television filming and more.

Claitor says his bill would also prohibit distribution of images captured with a drone.

"So when I fly into Senator Nevers backyard, I can take a picture and I can send it immediately to the internet, if I wish to, through the handy dandy application" Claitor said. "It is a lower level penalty when you distribute it."

The bill now heads to the House.

(picture from brookstone.com of $370 drone that takes pictures)

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Most parents who are involved in the state's voucher program are pleased

A survey released by two pro voucher groups shows 92-percent of the parents who have children participating in the state's voucher program are satisfied and happy with their child's academic progress. President of the Louisiana Federation for Children, Ann Duplessis, says the survey sends a strong message to those who oppose vouchers.

"The survey clearly says that parents want choice, parents want to have the opportunity to create or to provide a better educational opportunity for their kids," Duplessis said. 
The Black Alliance for Educational Options also helped put the survey together.
The state's voucher program, also called the Louisiana Scholarship program, uses state funding to send children, from low income families attending poorly performing public schools, to an approved private school. Duplessis says 87-hundred students have already been awarded a scholarship for next school year.

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5-Day Festival International in Lafayette begins today

Michelle Southern reporting.
The massive Festival International which brings in music and art lovers from all over the world, kicks off today in Lafayette. The annual 5-day festival is always held during the last full week of April.

Kelly Strenge with the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Bureau says this is a multicultural festival that draws thousands.
"We have a large draw from Louisiana and tourism wise of course from Texas, Mississippi and all over the state," said Strenge. "The Festival International draws journalists and visitors and musicians from all over the world."

Strenge says the free festival is a celebration of diversity in music.
She says historic downtown Lafayette is transformed into an entertainment complex featuring six music stages, food court areas, street musicians and more.

"It's very affordable and very easy to get to," said Strenge. "It's just five days of food, music, fine crafts from Louisiana and a world market."

Strenge says they are expecting between 300 to 350 thousand people to attend the festival through the weekend.

You can get more information at festivalinternational.com.
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Bill requiring dogs to be restrained in trucks on interstates squeaks by

Michelle Southern reporting.
A bill requiring dogs to be restrained in the beds of pickup trucks passes on the House floor to the tune of "Who Let the Dogs Out" and heads to Senate. The measure by Kenner Representative Tom Willmott got a close 53-34 go-ahead vote. He says a dog loose in the back of a truck that's going 70 on an interstate is extremely unsafe.

"Think about it, if a dog falls out of a truck in front of you, it's just like an unsecured load," said Willmott. "It creates emergency situations."

Willmott says it's a public safety issue and not to mention when a dog flys out of the back of a truck onto an interstate, it's not a pretty site.

But Bossier City Representative Jeff Thompson is one of the 34 lawmakers who voted against this bill.

He says hunters in his area have no choice but to use interstates when going out with their dogs.

"We've got I-20, 220 and 49 and to go anywhere in town you're going to have to be on these portions of the road," said Thompson.

New Orleans Representative Helena Moreno took to the House Floor to share an experience she had with a dog falling out of a truck in front of her on an interstate.

Willmott says there are three acceptable ways the dog could be restrained: either in a crate, on a short enough rope or in a car top carrier.

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Another bill to lessen marijuana penalties in Louisiana fails

Michelle Southern reporting.
The hot button bill by New Orleans Senator JP Morrell that would lessen marijuana penalties in Louisiana is no more. SB 323, which says anyone charged with pot possession could get no more than 6 months in jail and a $100 fine on every offense, was deferred in committee. Morrell argued that Louisiana needs to join neighboring states on this issue.

"What makes our citizens so dangerous and despicable that in Texas, which is viewed as the toughest state on crime," says Morrell. "They treat all possession of marijuana as a misdemeanor?"

Republican Senator Robert Adley of Benton said he was scolded by his mother when he said he'd support this legislation.

Adley told the story, "I said, 'Mama, I'm just trying to reduce it from a felony to a misdemeanor,' and she said, 'Well they put your nephew in jail for it and I need you to find a way to get that felony off his record!'"

Morell says under present law, a second conviction of marijuana possession is a felony and a third charge could land someone in jail 20 years which he says is ridiculous.

Charles Scott is the President of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association and they strongly oppose this bill.

He thinks lowering the marijuana penalties in Louisiana would send a message that we think pot is safe drug.

"Some of this battle needs to take place at the FDA," said Scott. "They have analyzed and still found that it is a Schedule I. That is there is a high likelihood of addiction."

Scott says one in nine adults who smoke marijuana become addicted and when they start as a teen that stat goes to one in six.

He says DA's go to great lengths to not put a felony on someone who is just a young casual user.

"We're mindful of the yolk that would put on them as a felon," Scott says. "And it is not abused."
The bill is essentially dead for the session.

(Image by Andrew Bardwell on Flickr.)

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A bill that goes after an alleged speed trap in St. Landry passes House Transportation

A bill aimed at preventing the town of Washington in St. Landry Parish from writing speeding tickets on I-49 passed out of the House Transportation Committee. Shreveport Rep Alan Seabaugh's measure only allows cities to write speeding tickets on an interstate if more than a half-mile of the interstate is in town limits. 

"This is about abuse, this not about law enforcement, it's about correcting an abuse that's going on in Louisiana that we have the authority to fix," Seabaugh said. 
Seabaugh says only a tiny portion of I-49 is within the city limits of Washington and he believes the Washington police department is abusing its authority to write speeding tickets to help pay for government services. 
The House transportation committee passed the measure on an 11-to-5 vote. Baton Rouge Representative Dalton Honore says he's concerned this bill would hurt law enforcement efforts. 
"You're telling law enforcement who they can and can't stop," Honore said.
The Louisiana Municipal Association also has concerns with the legislation, but assistant director of government affairs, John Gallagher, says the portion of I-49 at the Washington exit has the reputation of being a speed trap area.
"When I'm coming from visiting my parents in Shreveport, when I get to Washington, I get out of my car and push, just to be sure," Gallagher said.


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Heroin users and dealers could be sentenced to 99 years

A bill that would increase the maximum sentence to 99 years for those individuals who are convicted of manufacturing, distributing or possessing heroin is heading to the House. The full senate approved the measure on a 34-to-2 vote. Senate Bill 87 is sponsored by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor.

"The current maximum for distribution of heroin 50 this pushes the maximum allowable to 99," Claitor said. "The judge doesn't have to give 99, there's no mandatory minimum."
Several parishes have seen a surge in heroin overdose deaths. A bill has also already passed the House that will increase the minimum sentence for heroin producers and distributors from five to ten years. Claitor says the message needs to be sent that the use of this drug has deadly consequences. 
"In my view, people who distribute heroin, distribute death sentences and distribute life sentences this is a 99 year sentence."
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Bill to make the Holy Bible the state book is shelved

There will be no more discussion in this legislative session over whether the Holy Bible should be the official state book of Louisiana. Shreveport Representative Thomas Carmody is the author of the measure and he says the proposal was causing too much of a distraction.

"Talking with members of the legislature, there was a lot of concern about whether or not this was a distraction away from what should really warrant our attention, trying to balance the budget, make sure we are providing for the education of this state," Carmody said.
Carmody says he filed the bill at the request of a constituent in his district who wanted a specific Holy Bible named as the state official state book. The Shreveport lawmaker says the bill was changed in a House committee and he's concerned it may violate the constitution

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Update on bodies found in burned vehicle in Vermilion Parish

The Vermilion Parish Sheriffs office releases more details concerning last week's discovery of two individuals found in a burned out car near Maurice. 

Sheriff Mike Couvillon says an autopsy was preformed on the two bodies. One was a female, while the other was a male but they can't determine their race. They were able to retrieve a couple of items that the individuals were wearing. 
The male victim was wearing two chain necklaces, a link style bracelet, a tongue piercing, and a pair of black tennis shoes with silver stripes. The woman was found wearing a bangle bracelet engraved with the words "I love you more." 
Sheriff Couvillon is urging anyone who could have a missing family member or friend that is known to wear items like these to come forward to help with the identification. To contact the Sheriff's Criminal Investigations Division call (337) 898-4403. 
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99 Louisiana runners compete in Boston Marathon

Ninety-nine runners from Louisiana participated in today's Boston Marathon, the first one since last year's deadly bombing near the finish line. One of the athletes is the son of Colonel Mike Edmonson, the Commander of the Louisiana State Police. Col. Edmonson says the atmosphere has been incredible.

"The people of Boston and Massachusetts have been incredible.   Just a great experience and to share it with my son."
It took Michael Edmonson Junior three hours to finish the 26-mile race. 
Edmonson says about a million people packed into downtown Boston to be a part of today's historic race and the spirit of the competitors and fans was unbelievable.

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Sheriff's office identifies Opelousas attacker

The St. Landry Parish Sheriff's office has identified the man who attacked a woman last week in Opelousas with a cane knife and ended up dying during the attack. The attacker's name is 52-year-old Phillip Manuel of Opelousas. 

Sheriff Bobby Guidroz says that they don't know much more than that.
"We were given another name for the individual.  Thank God we didn't give that information to the wrong family.  But the subject is deceased.  He did break into the home, attacked a woman and she defended herself.  And the only good thing out of all this is that she survived and she was able to escape."
Although the official cause of death has not been released, Guidroz believes that the investigation has given him enough information to form an educated guess.
"There were no cuts on the individual that would have caused his death and no trauma to the body.  So, our guess is, right now until the official report comes back, is that he died of a heart attack."
The victim is in stable condition recovering from her wounds.  The investigation continues and Guidroz says they are trying to determine if this attack was a random act of violence.
"We're just not sure that she did or did not know the individual.  But he was not let into the home, he broke into the home.  We do know that."


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Monroe woman booked for murder after running over boyfriend's father with Yukon

Michelle Southern reporting.
The Monroe Police Department says a crazed woman is behind bars for allegedly running over and killing her boyfriend's father with a Yukon. Sgt. Mark Johnson says the suspect, 28-year-old Markeda Porter, and her boyfriend were sitting in the vehicle Sunday night and got into a heated argument over the woman's three year old child.
(Markeda Porter pictured; source OCC)

"During the course of this dispute the boyfriend was getting out of the car to leave so it wouldn't escalate," said Johnson. "At that time Ms. Porter is alleged to have deliberately struck him with the vehicle as he was getting out...he was hit with the passenger door."

Johnson says the boyfriend then went into the driveway of the residence and closed and locked the gate.

"Then Ms. Porter is alleged to have put the vehicle in forward motion, crashing through the gate, striking the boyfriend and his father, Mr. Larry Johnson, with the vehicle," said Johnson.

He says the boyfriend was treated for moderate injuries at a hospital, but Larry Johnson passed away.

Sgt. Johnson says Porter was found to be on marijuana and alcohol at the time.

"Those substances were located at the scene in the vehicle," said Johnson. "She has subsequently been arrested and charged with attempted 2nd degree murder, 2nd degree murder, DWI and possession of marijuana."

Porter was booked into the Ouachita Parish Correctional Center.

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LSP: Searching for vehicle involved in Iberia Parish fatal hit and run

Louisiana State Police say they are looking for a vehicle involved in a fatal, non-contact crash that happened over the weekend in Iberia Parish. Trooper Stephen Hammons says at 10:20 Saturday night on La Highway 90, a Mercedes Benz was traveling at a high rate of speed in the left lane.

"For reasons still under investigation an unknown vehicle changed lanes from the right lane into the path of the Mercedes," Hammons said. "In an attempt to avoid the other vehicle, the driver of the Mercedes steered to the left traveling into the median and struck a culvert which caused his vehicle to overturn."

Hammons says when that happened, the vehicle caught fire.

"Once the fire was extinguished the driver was pronounced dead at the scene by the Iberia Parish Coroner," said Hammons.

The victim is identified as 39-year-old Gonzalo Lopez of New Iberia.

Hammons says even though the Mercedes was not hit, this crash is considered a hit and run because the other vehicle involved was likely at-fault.

"The search for the other vehicle continues and anyone with information about this crash is asked to call State Police at *LSP," said Hammons.

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Louisiana lobbying group supporting medical marijuana emerges

Michelle Southern reporting.
An industry group has formed to lobby lawmakers to support legislation that would legalize medical marijuana which is scheduled to come up for debate this week. Louisiana Cannabis Industry Association spokesman and lobbyist Jesse McCormick believes support for the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes is growing in Louisiana.

"There's been recent polls from LSU that indicate 79% of people are in favor of medicinal marijuana," McCormick said.

McCormick says while Louisiana citizens seem to support medical marijuana legalization, he's unsure on lawmakers stance just yet. He says he believes the support is there, but some legislators have a tough time with it.

McCormick says leaders across the nation are moving in the direction of favoring medicinal marijuana.

"20 states are doing it so I think it was time for Louisiana to at least start the conversation, start the debate, to see if we have the temperature to move forward on something like this," McCormick said.

McCormick believes that when Governor Bobby Jindal said he was open to the idea of legalizing medical marijuana, it gave people confidence to get behind such legislation.

He says they'll know a lot more after the committee meeting that takes up New Iberia Sen. Fred Mill's medical marijuana bill. McCormick recognizes there's skepticism.

"But we live in a conservative state and there is no intention to move to recreational legalization," said McCormick. "This is about doing a tightly regulated system where a doctor is a prescriber and there is a patient in need."

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PGA Tour returns to Louisiana this week

The P-G-A Tour returns to Louisiana this week as round one of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will get underway on Thursday at the T-P-C of Louisiana in Avondale. The Fore Kids Foundation is the producer of the tournament and C-E-O Fore Kids, Steve Worthy, says this year's field features 16 former major winners, plus other stars on the tour.

"Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Ernie Els, Billy Horschel, are defending champ," Worthy said. "We got a lot of younger and guys who won tournaments earlier this year. And then you have veterans like Vijay Singh and Lucas Glover." 
Tickets for the tournament are still available and Worthy says it's an event that casual or even non-golf lovers can enjoy, because of other attractions on the course. 
"Food and drink is the biggest draw and people rave about it," Worthy said. "The 19th hole has six restaurants, so if you have a general grounds ticket, you can take advantage of that."
Events associated with the tournament actually get underway Monday with a Pro-Am. Worthy says Tuesday there will be a celebrity shootout at the T-P-C of Louisiana. 
"We got names like new Saint Champ Bailey, Mark Ingram, country music star Darius Rucker and former LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson."


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