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A ceremony is being held today for a Korean War Veteran from Ferriday whose remains are being returned home after 68 years.  Nineteen-year-old Sergeant Lester Walker was deployed to Korea with an anti-air craft weapons battalion. Congressman Ralph Abraham says he was lost during the first months of the war.

“He was actually one of the first infantry units ordered to Korea. He was in a battle in a battle in the Nakdong river. He was taken prisoner and he was declared M.I.A.”

36,914 American Servicemen and women were lost in the conflict often called the “Forgotten War”, due its lack of recognition.

Abraham says those sacrifices need to be remembered.

“That’s so unfortunate because these men that served over there, they did exactly what every man and woman has done in the past, and that’s defending our country and defending our way of life.”

Two and half million people are suspected to have lost their lives during the three year war.

Abraham says hundreds lined the runway as Walker was returned home, in a show of solidarity with all gold star families. Abraham says it’s been cathartic for the north Louisiana community.

“It’s just closure not only for… you know, the remainders of the family that are here but for everyone who has lost someone in a war situation.”

An armistice was signed in 1953, but the war is technically still ongoing.

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The House narrowly passed a budget that would fund TOPS at 80% and maintain higher ed funding, but would implement deep cuts in healthcare funding, potentially ending public-private partnership hospitals that care for the poor. House Appropriations Chairman Republican Cameron Henry says the state cannot afford to maintain its current healthcare spending. 

“The growth at which Medicaid is expanding, at this rate we cannot attain. This is not a Republican issue or a Democratic issue. This is a math issue. We cannot attain it,” Henry said.

House GOP Chairman Lance Harris says the budget is the best they could do with the funds they have available.

“What we’re doing... and I want to remind the body, is that we’re dealing with the facts that we have today. We’re dealing with the levels of funding that the REC has projected today,” Harris said.

All but one Democrat voted against the budget. New Orleans Representative Garry Carter says if passed, the spending plan would kill people.

“What we’re doing... and I want to remind the body, is that we’re dealing with the facts that we have today. We’re dealing with the levels of funding that the REC has projected today,” Carter said.

House Democratic Chairman Robert Johnson went after legislators who voted yes on the proposed budget.

“If these cuts come through, it would be reasonable to expect the loss of life because people won’t have access to healthcare that they currently have,” Johnson said.

Governor John Bel Edwards has announced that if the spending plan reaches his desk, he will not sign it.
 
"The state is better than this, they deserve better than this," Edwards said.  

The proposed spending plan goes to the Senate Finance Committee who will meet Sunday. It’s possible the Senate may not even vote on a budget.

"There is no way to move that money around and make this budget one that is worthy of the people of Louisiana, so no the Senate can not fix this, it's just the unfortunate reality that we need a special session," Edwards said. 
 
 

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A seven-year-old policy barring inmates from talking to the media about their cases has been lifted by the Louisiana Department of Corrections after a challenge from the ACLU.

ACLU Staff Attorney Bruce Hamilton says the gag order was a gross violation of inmates civil rights. 

"The fact that the policy would allow prison officials to deny interview requests was a severe infringement of their constitutional rights." 
 
The suit was brought on behalf of Darold Hines, an Angola inmate, who was denied the right to speak to LSU reporters who were investigating his case.  Hamilton says just because they are prisoners, doesn’t mean they don’t have rights.
 
"They do have the right to talk about the crimes that they've been imprisoned for, and the press has a first amendment right to talk to them, as well." 

Hamilton says the justice system isn’t perfect, which is why inmates need the right to tell their stories to the media.

"We have wrongful convictions and people need to be able to talk about the crimes they've been accused of committing."



 

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Brett Favre is stepping up to be the voice of a distracted driving campaign in Louisiana. The Hall of Fame Quarterback is featured in a new PSA speaking out against dangerous behavior behind the wheel that was responsible for the deaths of hundreds in 2016.

 Favre is using his NFL experience to make an impact.

“Even the smallest distraction could make a good play or offensive drive come to an end. When you’re in a car, the smallest distraction could end much more than a drive. It could end someone’s life,” Favre said in the PSA.

Property Casualty Insurance Vice President of State Government Relations Joe Woods worked with Favre to bring the PSA to life. He says his organization is pushing to increase penalties for drivers who use their phone while driving, but laws alone won’t save lives.

“Changing the law is one thing but changing this culture is even more important and we think that Brett has a voice that a lot of people will listen to,” Woods said.

Woods says the advent of smart phones has led to a drastic increase in distracted driving fatalities.

“Of use of those handheld phones, over the last 8 or 10 years… the number of crashes has gone up dramatically, so we’re having more crashes now than ever before even though we’ve got all of these new safety devices in our cars,” Woods said.

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The state House approves legislation that supporters say will help the Cajun Navy and other volunteer groups have a greater impact during disasters. Denham Springs Representative Valarie Hodges says her family was helped by volunteers after the 2016 flood.

She says the legislation gives the Cajun Navy access to state equipment and training.

“During these emergencies, we have a lot of assets from the state that we would like to be able to help these volunteer organizations,” Hodges said.

But New Iberia Representative Terry Landry, the former head of State Police, is skeptical about bringing volunteers into a disaster situation.

“I’m just questioning how this is going to work. Who is going to be in charge? Are they going to operate under (a) unified command?” Landry asked.

“GOHSEP. Yes, GOHSEP is in charge,” Hodges replied.

Hodges says she met with just about every member of the emergency community when she drafted bill, including the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP).

“This bill was voted in the National Association of Emergency Managers in Washington D.C., three weeks ago… This bill was voted the number one bill of the emergency managers in the United States,” Hodges said.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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The State Fire Marshal has arrested a Richland Parish volunteer firefighter in connection with a mobile home fire that injured his medically disabled wife. Kenneth Fulford was booked into parish prison on multiple offenses.

 State Fire Marshal spokesperson Ashley Rodrigue addressed the incident.
 
“When Mr. Fulford discovered the fire, instead of assisting his medically disabled wife, he tried to guide her out verbally.  She was injured in the fire in her attempt to escape on her own.”
 
Fulford was additionally charged with Aggravated Cruelty to animals.

“However, in this fire, unfortunately… his wife’s service dog was also killed, and as the investigation progressed, Fulford confessed to having set the fire.”

Fulford is also a Richland Parish volunteer fire-fighter himself. Rodrigue says it’s unfortunate one of their own was charged, but that’s the way it iss.

“But when a crime is alleged we will investigate it thoroughly… regardless of who it involved or who is suspected.”

More charges maybe pending.

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Governor John Bel Edwards is working to find ways to equip every school with a school resource officer.  He says the vast majority of schools already have them but not all.  Edwards made the comments during his monthly radio show, “Ask The Governor."

“I believe that there’s a lot of things we need to do, but as it relates to guns on school campuses, they ought to be in the procession of school resource officers. Those officers ought to be post certified, and they ought to have annual recurring training.”

The governor adds each officer should have uniformed training.
 
“The vast majority already have resource officers across the state and we’ve got to do an inventory and see where we’re lacking good resource officers, but we’ve got to make sure they are properly trained and equipped.” 
 
He says he’s saddened by the situation today’s schools are in. 
 
“It’s pretty sad. You know, when you talk about kids in schools, you ought to be talking about, ’what do we need to do to improve outcomes?’ No parent should have to worry about whether their kid is going to be safe when they go to school.  No teacher, lunch room worker, custodian… none of those people ought to have to worry about this.” 
 
A task force has been assembled to study the issue.

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The Pelicans are rolling back into New Orleans up 2-0 in their first round playoff series against the Trailblazers, after a suffocating defense sucked the life out of Portland’s star duo of CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard.  Pelicans Senior Vice President of Sales, Mike Stanfield says New Orleans’ stars are putting on a clinic. 

“It’s going to be rocking to come back after a two (to) nothing beating in Cleveland, out there. After seeing what Jrue Holiday did and Anthony Davis. This is a special team.”

Stanfield says over the course of one of the most successful seasons in a decade, the fans have bought in, and turned up.

“New Orleans fans are the best in the country.  The passion, the knowledge and really… becoming the sixth man.”

The team is planning to throw a party for fans in attendance, with free tee-shirts, pep rallies, a fan fest outside, and…

“At half-time, we’re going to have a New Orleans native, Mannie Fresh for our half-time entertainment. So, it will really be (an) exciting atmosphere.”

Game three tips off Thursday at 8pm with a potential series clinching game four on Saturday at 4pm.

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Entergy has announced that the tax savings from the federal tax reform bill will be passed back to customers starting in May. The savings will be implanted in two stages through September. 

Entergy Louisiana CEO Phillip May says by fall, the average customer will be saving six bucks a month.

“It will start off in May with a reduction to a typical customer of about four dollars and twenty cents per month and then in September we will see a reduction of about two dollars per month.”

May says the savings are the result of the trillion dollar tax cut, as well as upgrades to Entergy’s infrastructure.

“Entergy has been investing considerably in its grid for some time. These tax reforms will help to provide that service at a lower cost.”

And the saving will come just in time to blunt the impact of dreaded Louisiana summer electric bills.

“All in all… really good news for customers, and it’s coming at a time when we will see air conditioners cranking and bills going up.”

Customers will see an additional drop of about two dollars a month after Katrina/Rita costs fall off in October.

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The Democratic Caucus is pushing back against a budget that will be discussed Thursday on the House Floor that includes $648-million in cuts to higher education and healthcare.  Caucus Chairman Robert Johnson (pictured) says the budget discriminates against Democratic constituencies, while funding projects in Republican areas of the state.

“That vote shows that we’re creating winners and losers in Louisiana in the area of healthcare… and that’s just not the way that we should budget. That’s immoral,” Johnson said.

The caucus is also pushing back against part of the budget that fully funds TOPS, but cuts the higher education budget.

Johnson says Republicans aren’t properly considering, and explaining just how damaging these cuts would be to Louisianans.

“They need to get past their rhetoric and start looking at reality, which is where we are.  We’re looking at these cuts as very real cuts. This is 648 million in cuts,” Johnson said.

Baton Rouge Representative Democrat Pat Smith says so far, the GOP have resisted any efforts to cut a bargain that would adequately fund state programs.

“You’ve got to have cuts and revenue… together. That has to come from a compromise. They’re not willing to talk about new revenue, then how can you come up with a number that you’re going to have for cuts?” Smith said.

The caucus is calling on lawmakers to vote against the budget, and instead replace expiring revenues in a special session.

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The full House has approved legislation that gives residents a chance to vote on whether fantasy sports betting should be legal in their parish. The bill’s author, River Ridge Representative Kirk Talbot, explained to the rest of the House how the fantasy sports games work.

“It is a game of skill, You draft players, you pick teams… you decide which players to play,” Talbot said.

Currently, fantasy sports websites like Draft Kings and Fan Duel do not allow Louisiana residents to play in their contests. Talbot says all his legislation does is legalize it in parishes, if it’s approved by a majority of residents in November.

“So, parishes can vote it in or parishes can vote it out. If we’re successful in November, we will come back next year, we will have to file a bill, to tax it… regulate it,” Talbot said.

The measure still needs Senate approval.

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On a 97-1 vote, the House passed legislation that would permit companies like Uber to operate across the state, without needing to make local agreements. The bill, by Speaker Taylor Barras, would bring Louisiana in line with the vast majority of other state’s rideshare regulations. Barras says it’s a big benefit with a small price tag.

“This certainly sets a network for a lot of areas of our state, to offer a service. Great benefit for tourism and a lot of our municipal areas.”

Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton said her mind was changed after talking to her son about the benefits of the service for people who don’t own transportation.

“If this bill passes they will be able to go back and forth to work, go to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office.”

Shreveport Representative Cedric Glover was the one dissenting vote. He expressed concerns that the background check system used to clear Uber drivers was not reliable.

“It lends that authority to the company or a third party, neither of which have the kind of certainty from the kind of results you get from law enforcement agencies.”

The bill moves onto the Senate

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The Pelicans return to New Orleans with a two games to nothing series lead over Portland after a 111 to 102 victory last night.  Jrue Holiday scored a career playoff-high 33 points. And on the defensive end, Holiday held Damian Lillard to 17 points. Head Coach Alvin Gentry says Holiday has been playing at a high level for a while.

 “If you can tell me a better two way player in the league right now, I’m willing to listen, but what we ask him to do and the things we asked him to do, offensively. He was just great,” Gentry said.

A modest Holiday says he’s just doing what his teammates expect out of him.

“Whatever they need me to do, if it’s to defend, if it’s to score, if it’s to get other people involved… if it’s to cheer from the sidelines from the bench. So, again… I just feel like I’m in a really good place right now,” Holiday said.

Game 4 is Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center. The Pels are just the seventh team in NBA history to win the first two games of an opening round playoff series on the road. Gentry says they still have to get two more wins to advance to the next round.

“We’re playing a really, really well coached, great team. We’ve done an exceptional job on those two guards and you just never know when they’re just going to go off,” Gentry said.

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The state’s legislative auditor has completed a sexual harassment survey of thousands of state workers and concluded that the state should do a better job of educating its workers on the issue. Auditor Daryl Purpera says the state spent more than five million dollars on sexual harassment claims over the past 9 years. He says there is no clear cut process on what to do.

“Providing a process, instructing people on noticing, identifying, reporting sexual harassment and is there a standard process on how they handle those claims,” says Purpera.

The audit was triggered by the resignation of one of Governor John Bel Edwards top aide’s over accusations of sexual harassment. Purpera adds without a standard procedure the issue may continue.

“And then training, were giving our employees a process on how to identify and what to do who to go talk to, how to report it. And then for those entities, what do you do with that report.” Says Purpera.

Purpera admits the state’s employee base is very diverse and a sexual harassment policy would have to be custom fit for some of the different agencies.

“So were not saying everyone has to have the same words, but we do believe there are best practices. There are some key things that all agencies should have,” says Purpera.

“Of the responses we did get there was a considerable amount that said they had either witnessed it or were a party to it. A good number said they didn’t report it for various reasons,” added purpera.

The audit findings came largely from the Office of Risk Management.

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A bill to ban drivers from using their phone with their hands while on the road failed to pass the House floor after an, at times, contentious debate. The legislation by Breaux Bridge Representative Mike Huval was inspired by the traffic deaths of a constituent’s child. Huval says it’s a bill designed to save lives.

“This bill is to try and protect the families back home that deserve to have one less thing that could possibly kill them, or their children, or someone they know.”

The bill received stiff opposition from Shreveport Representative Barbara Norton, who frequently clashed with Huval during her questioning.

“You chose to pick out cell phones but you don’t say anything about eating, shaving, tying a neck tie, putting on makeup, drinking coffee, you’re still distracted.”

Baton Rouge Representative Barry Ivey says the bill is unnecessary nanny state legislation.

“Where do we stop with this type of legislation, as well intended as it is, where do we stop? At some point people just need to be responsible.”

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A Senate committee approves legislation that would prohibit abortions in Louisiana after 15 weeks from conception, but there are concerns the legislation could bring upon unintended consequences. Kaplan Senator Jonathan Perry urged the bill's author to work on the language of the bill with an attorney, before bringing it up to the Senate floor.

"I'm going to move favorable, but I'm begging you to continue to work, because this is not clear to everybody what this gonna accomplish, to the point that I think it can hurt," said Perry. 


An attorney said if "Roe versus Wade" is overturned, this legislation could actually weaken Louisiana's pro-life laws by allowing abortions within 15 weeks of pregnancy. But the bill's author, Shreveport Senator John Milkovich, urged the committee to pass his legislation so its in place if the federal appeals court upholds Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban.
 
"If we have this bill in place, it becomes illegal to kill babies after 15 weeks," said Milkovich. 
 
Pro-choice advocates were on hand to testify against the 15-week abortion ban. Amy Irvin of the New Orleans Abortion Fund says the legislation will cost the state thousands of dollars to defend. 
 
"It is irresponsible for policymakers to pass anti-trust legislation that will result in costly legislation," said Irvin. 

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A bill allowing judges to inform juries about whether or not a victim in a car crash was wearing a seat belt died in a Senate Committee. The bill was promoted as potentially leading to smaller settlements in some cases, which would drive insurance rates down. Slidell Senator Sharon Hewitt, the bill’s sponsor, says we should trust judges to make the right call.

“The judge should have the ability to use his judgement as to when that information would relevant to a jury.”

But the bill received opposition from Bossier City Senator Ryan Gatti, who says the bill punishes victims with lower settlements in crashes that weren’t their fault.

“I don’t see any situation where the victim deserves to be punished for doing an everyday thing.”

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon could not guarantee that insurance rates would go down as a result of the bill, and Gatti says it’s emblematic of problems with the bill as a whole.

“There’s really no guarantee that I can take back to district 36 to my trucking companies and tell everyone else that look, your rates are going to be reduced.”

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Sports betting will not be legal in Louisiana anytime soon as a push to allow parishes to vote on allowing it in casinos was shot down six to three in Senate Finance. Metairie Senator Danny Martiny, the bill’s sponsor, says if the US Supreme Court expands sports gaming nationwide, Louisiana could lose out on a lot of tourism to its neighbors.

“I’m not saying this is the cure all for everything but I’m telling you right now that we will lose customers and money if Mississippi and Arkansas have sports betting and we don’t.”

Martiny says the opposition wasn’t interested in expanding gambling in the state.

“Some of the people who voted against it, their parish would benefit by it but others were against an expansion of gaming, and I respect that.”

Martiny says keeping sports gaming illegal in Louisiana isn’t going to keep Louisianans from placing bets on their favorite sports.

“People who bet on these games they’re not going to just not bet on it, they’re going to find a way. They’re going to go over to the Mississippi gulf coast and bet on it, or you’re going to go on the internet and bet and were not going to get anything out of it.”

The US Supreme Court could rule on allowing sports betting in all 50 states this spring.

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Chancellors of two LSU Health Sciences Centers delivered impassioned testimonies in front of the Senate Finance Committee, calling on legislators not to pass the proposed budget apporved by the House Appropriations Committee that they say would devastate healthcare. Shreveport Chancellor G.E. Ghalli says the proposed cuts are impossible to make.

“What do I cut? Everything is important, the burn unit is important, the cancer center is important, the level one trauma center is important. Jesus, tell me what I’m supposed to cut!”

The budget will be discussed on the House floor Thursday.

New Orleans Chancellor Larry Hollier says the proposed spending plan cuts funding for the five statewide residency programs by 43 percent. He says those programs provide crucial services to the most vulnerable paitents.

 

“It’s the care of over a million patients that we deal with. I don’t think even a 50% reduction in our teaching hospitals would allow us to care for the patients that we need to take care of.”

Both Chancellors called on the legislature to not pass a budget until the 648 million dollar fiscal cliff, which is the result of expiring revenue in July, is potentially replaced in a possible special session.

Hollier says this budget, heading to the House floor, would result in a mass exodus of medical professionals from the state, and the devastation of the residency program.

“It’s a loss of 250 residents, out of our 800. That’s a massive reduction in workforce.”

House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, who’s in favor of the proposed budget, released a statement saying “We’re trying to pass a responsible budget with the dollars we have available.”

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A House committee voted down Baton Rouge Representative Patricia Smith’s proposal to ban bump stocks on guns. Authorities say a bump stock was used to kill more than 50 people in Las Vegas last October by allowing semi-automatic guns to shoot rapid-fire. Smith says something like that can happen here too.

“The Department of Justice proposed a regulation, what it does is re-defines the bump-stock as a machine gun,’ says Luper.

Representative Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, passionately asked the House Committee on Criminal Justice to see things her way. Saying something like what happened in Las Vegas can also happen here.

“59 people being killed, 500 people injured, anything like that could happen in the Super Dome, The country music awards festival, the essence festival, where ever people are gathered,” Says Rep. Pat Smith D-Baton Rouge.

Kyle Galotta testified against the measure because he feels like bump stocks got a bad reputation after it was discovered the Las Vegas shooter used one.

“If we want to ban one accessory based on one terrible thing done by one guy, I think it’s a bad precedent,” says Kyle Galotta.

The bill failed 7 yeas to 11 nays.

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