A proposal to alter the conditions under which a person who was wrongfully convicted could be compensated is dead for the session. Phillip Rozeman’s uncle was murdered 35 years ago, and Glenn Ford spent 30 years in jail for the crime, which he did not commit. Ford was not compensated for his time behind bars, because he was implicated in crimes related to the murder. Rozeman spoke in opposition, saying if Ford was not involved, there wouldn’t have been a murder.
“Ford was intricately involved in every facet of this case, with the exceptions of entering the house and pulling the trigger,” Rozeman said.
Pete Adams, Executive Director of the District Attorney’s Association, also opposes the bill. He says the compensation is meant for people who are wrongfully convicted, not for those who get their convictions overturned.
“The statute was drafted this way for a reason. It’s designed to give the people who have clean hands compensation because they truly deserve it. If you open it up, I think you water that down,” Adams said.
But Baton Rouge Representative Denise Marcelle supports the bill. She says these people have been failed by the system, and they deserve compensation.
“I just don’t think there’s a dollar amount you can put on compensation for wrongfully convicting someone of a capital crime and having them on death row,” Marcelle said.
Marcelle says people who are wrongfully convicted spend most of their lives being punished for something they didn’t do.
“Thirty years is a life. Children he could’ve had. Children that he did not get to grow up with,” Marcelle said.
The author of the bill, Shreveport Representative Cedric Glover, plans to bring the bill back again next year.
During the governor’s short time in office, his main
priority has been the state’s massive budget deficit. But John Bel Edwards wants
to address tackle other issues during his term. Edwards told the Baton Rouge
Rotary Club he is committed to the creation of a high speed commuter train between
Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“What if you lived in New Orleans and you needed access to go to work at one of those plants along the river and you could use a train to get there. I think it makes all the sense in the world, I think it would work.”
Edwards says advancing online educational technology is another area where he’d like to see expansion. He says young adults should have the opportunity to get their GED through classes on the internet.
“Maybe you’ve got a 16-year-old young lady who got pregnant, she drops out of high school. She might be able to get a high school degree if it’s available online.”
Edwards says in next year’s regular legislative session, sentencing and criminal justice reform will be one of his top priorities.
“The good news is there are other southern conservative states that have already done this. We know what worked and we know what didn’t work. We have a lot of people who are committed to this when it in the past they would’ve never have been committed.”
Former-Monroe TV personality “Mr. Wonder” has given up on fighting extradition from California back to Rapides Parish to face child sex charges that date back to 1978. Rapides Parish Sheriff’s office spokesperson, Lt. Tommy Carnline, says they are pleased the case against Frank Selas is moving forward.
“This has been a process that we have had going on now since his arrest in late January. He will now be extradited back to Rapides Parish where he will stand trial,” Carnline said.
Selas was living in San Diego when the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s office announced charges against him for allegedly sexually abusing boys during a camping trip. Carnline says it’s unclear when Selas will return to Rapides Parish.
“We have almost a month to get this done, but we’ll have to fly out there and then bring him back and get him back to Rapides Parish as possible,” Carnline said.
Carnline says Selas will go to court in Rapides Parish on two counts of aggravated rape, three counts of sexual battery, and eight counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.
“That’s where we’ll get closure and hopefully justice for these victims after 37 years,” Carnline said.
A bill to restrict college athletic teams in Louisiana, except for LSU, from traveling more than 375 miles to play games has been withdrawn. Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter, says he’s decided not to push his measure further, but told the House Education Committee we’re using taxpayer dollars to fund athletic programs when the state is in a massive budget deficit.
“Is this where these dollars should be spent? Or should we possibly be using some of these dollars for deferred maintenance, maybe even utilizing these dollars to fund more TOPS kids.”
Carter says he’s trying to make a point on the state’s priorities. He says there are a lot of out of student athletes using state dollars to travel when this money could be used to prevent cuts on the academic side.
“I’m trying to save a few dollars. I’m trying to make a point, is this where these dollars need to be spent?”
Carter says money used to fund long road trips for athletic teams could be put towards hiring new professors or for the TOPS scholarship program.
“Athletics is athletics and people want to compete and they want to compete against the best but again, I’m looking at it, what am I going to do with deferred maintenance, what am I going to do with TOPS?”
Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, as both Ted Cruz and John Kasich have both dropped out of the race. UL-Lafayette political science professor Pearson Cross says Trump might start to reign in some of his controversial comments to get more voters to rally behind him.
“I think his message will be shaped to the electorate he is now going to represent, and I think there will be a general ‘Support Trump’ move on the way to the convention,” Cross said.
Cross says not all Republicans will be happy to see Trump uncontested at the convention, but he doesn’t think the GOP will look for another nominee.
“They can’t walk away from him, but they can make some riots and protests at the convention, and we may see some of that,” Cross said.
Cross says Trump probably cannot count on getting much of the Democratic vote, because most Bernie Sanders supporters say they would support Hillary Clinton if Sanders didn’t get the nomination. Cross says Republicans will likely do what they can to market Trump to more of the party.
“I think the Republican Party is going to undertake the great education of Donald Trump and try to get him in a position that more and more Republicans can actually support him,” Cross said.
A bill to allow public high school students to participate in a national sex survey scarcely got enough votes to pass the House. Baton Rouge Representative Patricia Smith authors the bill. She says Louisiana has a high rate of STDs and pregnancy among teens. Opponents of the bill say it’s the parents’ place to talk about these things with their kids, but Smith says that isn’t working.
“If parents were doing this, then we wouldn’t have the cases that we do have, and so I just feel that we need to do something to get the information to be able to direct policy,” Smith said.
Baton Rouge Representative Denise Marcelle supports the legislation. She says lawmakers need to do something to prevent the cases of STDs and teen pregnancy from continuing to increase.
“I believe that doing something towards identifying these problems is a good thing, and if you do nothing, then you may just be a part of the problem,” Marcelle said.
Students would not be required to participate, and parents would be able to opt their child out. Shreveport Representative Thomas Carmody also spoke in support of the bill. He says the survey is anonymous, and it is not mandatory.
“Where would it hurt to allow at least the questions to be asked of our students to try to help them understand the consequences of their behavior?” Carmody said.
The measure passed on a 53-40 vote and moves to the Senate.
State health officials are offering guidance on how people can prevent the transmission of Zika virus. Dr. Frank Welch, with the department of health and hospitals, says the mosquito that carries Zika will be active in Louisiana this summer, but it won’t just be mosquitoes spreading the virus.
“There is the potential for local person to person spread in Louisiana. So we want to warn people beforehand to avoid mosquito bites and to get counseling and testing if they feel ill,” Welch said.
Welch says the virus can also be transmitted through sexual contact. He says if someone has a partner who has travelled to South America or the Caribbean, they need to take extra precautions, especially if the woman is pregnant.
“They are recommending using condoms for the 8 week period after return to avoid that woman getting Zika virus that may transmit to her baby,” Welch said.
Welch advises people to clear any standing water out of their yards, and wear long sleeves, pants and mosquito repellant. He says Southeastern Louisiana, and Lake Pontchartrain in particular, will be high risk areas because that’s where the mosquito that carries Zika lives.
“This mosquito is not universally distributed around Louisiana. It does then to congregate where people are and especially where swampy, warm areas are,” Welch said.
Louisiana is the 4th worst state for working moms, according to a study by the personal finance website, WalletHub. WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez says they looked at the cost of daycare, professional opportunities, and work and life balance. She says daycare and professional opportunities led to Louisiana’s poor ranking.
“Daycare quality was ranked 48th out of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, schools are ranked 47th.”
Gonzalez says in terms of daycare quality, Louisiana scored a 57 out of 150 points. She says the state also has a lot of single mothers living in poverty.
“Out of all single mom’s families with children younger than 18 in poverty, Louisiana had the third highest number with 49% of all those families living in poverty.”
Gonzalez says Louisiana also ranked 43rd for the gender pay gap.
“Louisiana has a lot to improve on, so it is Mother’s Day coming up, make sure to give her some extra appreciation at least.”
Captain Clay Higgins, who achieved fame for his viral crime stoppers videos, has released another video where he addresses a few of his concerns about our country, even hinting that he may consider running for public office. Higgins told the Jim Engster Show the response to his video has been incredible.
“I continue to be amazed and humbled by the very kind response by the people of Acadiana and Louisiana and across the country,” Higgins said.
Higgins says after he resigned from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office, he wasn’t sure what direction his life would take. He says before he decides to run for an elected office, he wanted to put his feeling about the state of the nation out there.
“Essentially this videos is sort of a reflection of my honest, heartfelt opinion about some of the challenges our nation faces,” Higgins said.
In the newest viral video, Higgins says America’s once respected status has been diminished and national debt has skyrocketed because of career politicians in Washington. Higgins says if he is called by the people of his state and his country to serve, he would step up to the plate.
“At this time right now, I just want to prayerfully reflect upon the response of my fellow Americans to my feelings on these things,” Higgins said.
Higgins says if he decides to run for office, he’ll make the announcement sometime next week.
220 retired research chimps at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia research center will move to a new sanctuary in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Project Chimps is a non-profit organization and has negotiated with the university to move the chimps over the next several years.
President Sarah Baeckler Davis says starting in June, chimps will start moving to the 236-acre sanctuary.
“It’ll take several years for them to make their way to us and it’ll be about 10 per month until we have them all moved here.”
Baeckler Davis says the NIRC decided to retire the chimps from research in 2015 before they were reclassified under the Endangered Species Act. She says the Georgia sanctuary will be the perfect environment to house the retired chimpanzees.
“We have a 236 acre property here in north Georgia. Beautiful rolling hills and pine trees and a full veterinary clinic and a kitchen.”
Baeckler Davis says this is the first time a non-federal program has released an entire population of research chimpanzees.
“It’s sort of a shifting of priorities from a research population to sort of a retirement facility.”
A bill that expands the number of diseases for which medical marijuana can be prescribed was narrowly approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee today. St. Martin Parish Senator Fred Mills is the author of the legislation and says he’s encountered many individuals who say medical cannabis can help their child cope with numerous diseases.
“I’m giving medical marijuana oil to my child that has turrets syndrome. He’s doing good, but I’m tired of breaking the law. I’m growing marijuana in my back yard,” Mills said.
When the legislature approved the legal dispensing of medical marijuana last year, they only allowed three different diseases to receive the medication. Katie Corkern says her son, who has uncontrollable seizures, could benefit from medical marijuana, and she doesn’t understand why lawmakers would oppose a bill that could help her child.
“Connor was seizing uncontrollably as legislators spoke against this bill simply because it’s about marijuana, and that is all they needed to know. They didn’t care that my child, feet away from them, was seizing,” Corkern said.
Dr. Will Hall with the Louisiana Baptist Office of Public Policy spoke out against the bill, because it will result in an increase in illegal drug use.
“This bill is not structured to prevent expansion. It’s structured to promote expansion,” Hall said.
Pete Adams, Executive Director of the Louisiana DA’s Association, also opposes the measure because he says medical cannabis has not been proven to help with these illnesses. He says this bill is a gateway to total legalization.
“I do believe that you will see this issue come up again and again and again. Until sometime in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be hearing a bill on the legalization of marijuana,” Adams said.
The bill passed on an 8-6 vote and moves to the full House for more debate.Mills says Louisiana is about two years away from getting medical marijuana to patients.
Buying, selling, transporting, or donating fetal tissue from an abortion could earn someone a bed behind bars for at least 10 years, under a proposal by Bossier City Senator Ryan Gatti. The bill has been approved by the Senate, as well as a House committee. Gatti says people should not benefit in any way from induced abortions.
“We just need to go ahead and speak for the people and make this a crime because children are our destiny. They’re our hope. They’re our future. They’re not merchandise that needs to be sold,” Gatti said.
Gatti says this bill does not apply to donating fetal tissue for stem cell research or umbilical cord blood. He says he put every word that could possibly be used for this act, to make sure that everyone involved can be prosecuted.
“Even the FedEx guy if he’s picking up a box. I want to make it clear. I don’t want to hide anything in this bill. The transportation of these organs is a violation of this criminal law,” Gatti said.
The measure passed the House Health and Welfare committee without opposition and now heads to the full House.
The bill is the result of recent videos which purportedly showed Planned Parenthood representatives talking about the sale of aborted fetal parts.
A bill to allow victims of domestic violence who have been issued
a protective order to carry a concealed handgun with an expedited and temporary
permit passed out of the House Criminal Justice committee.
Author of the legislation,
Denham Springs Rep. Valerie Hodges, says according to the FBI, a woman is
battered every 15 seconds. She says she is committed to protecting victims of
“13-hundred women are murdered every year in the United States. That’s more women murdered by their former spouse or boyfriend than that died in the World Trade Center.”
Hodges says this is a very real problem and right now it takes six to eight weeks to obtain a permit. Wade Duty with the Louisiana Shooting Association says it’s very hard to get into a class and a woman could be killed waiting to take a training course.
“At the end of the day, it is the woman and it is her attacker and a piece of paper simply does not weigh in the balance in that equation, I would ask you to support this bill.
The measure now heads to the full House. The NRA supports expediting the process for obtaining concealed carry permit. Hodges says daughters, sisters, and mothers are being murdered at the hands of former loved ones and wants to give them a chance.
“To give them something that could equalize their ability to survive when they are attacked, this won’t stop the attack.”
Another proposal aimed at public schools by New Orleans Representative Walt Leger would require students to have wellness exams before entering kindergarten and sixth grade. Leger says this just ensures that any health issue that a student may have can be caught early.
“Clearly we want kids to show up ready to learn, making sure that they’ve been evaluated for vision, hearing issues, developmental disabilities, and otherwise,” Leger said.
But Houma Representative Beryl Amedee says this could cost the state more money, because kids who use government healthcare would be required to get medically unnecessary exams at the state’s expense.
“This would be driving a lot of students who are not medically needy of these appointments because they’re perfectly healthy to get these evaluations when they’re really not necessary,” Amedee said.
Leger says parents would be able to opt out of getting the exams, like they can with vaccines. He says these exams would benefit all students who get them, even if they are healthy.
“Even heathy students benefit from having a health evaluation. We don’t know that they’re healthy until they’ve been evaluated,” Leger said.
The measure passed on a 59-37 vote and moves to the Senate.
Students in public schools could start getting lessons in personal finance management, if a bill by Minden Representative Gene Reynolds gains more approval in the legislature. The measure has been approved in the House Education Committee with no objection. Reynolds says this proposal would not create a financial literacy course. He says teachers could add finance lessons to the regular curriculum.
“It doesn’t have to be a course you would get credit for or anything. It could be incorporated within the year, and that’s the whole idea,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds says students in every grade can learn something about money. He says even in kindergarten, you learn to count pennies, which he says could be considered financial literacy. He says many schools are already teaching students about finance management.
“A lot of schools have incorporated on their own financial literacy within courses and as special projects,” Reynolds said.
Legislation is heading to the governor's desk that curbs the cost of the TOPS scholarship program and it will likely mean recipients will have to pay a portion of their tuition. Lafayette Representative Nancy Landry says the bill locks the TOPS payment rate at next year's tuition level, but it will not automatically go up if tuition at that college rises.
"If there is a tuition increase, it won't be automatic, the legislature has to say ok yes, we'll match it, we're okay with that or we can simply say we cannot afford to," Landry said.
The measure passed on a 74-20 vote and heads to the governor's desk, where he is expected to sign it. Amite Representative Robby Carter has concerns about telling TOPS students that their tuition will no longer be fully paid for.
"I don't like the idea of broken promises we made to those freshman and sophomores who started their university careers and now we may not be fulfilling a contract we made with them when they started," Carter said.
The taxpayer funded scholarship program costs the state nearly 300-million dollars and Landry says the legislature must do something to rein in its costs.
"We have to put some protection in to protect the program for our children to use in the future," Landry said-
The Senate has approved legislation that would send 17-year-old non-violent offenders through the juvenile court system, instead of adult court. The measure was approved on a 33-4 vote. New Orleans Senator JP Morrell says 17-year-olds who are convicted of crimes would be better off if they didn’t go to adult jail.
“I challenge that if anyone of you sent your child to an adult facility for several years, they would come out as a hardened criminal,” Morrell said.
Morrell says violent offenders will still be able to be charged as adults, but under the current law, even those who commit minor offenses are required to be charged as adults.
“Just like you wouldn’t want someone locking up your child, we should give every 18-year-old the opportunity to prove us right, and if they don’t, there is a bed waiting for them at an adult facility,” Morrell said.
Morrell says 17-year-olds aren’t allowed to vote, sign a contract, or join the military. He says these offenders are not adults, and they don’t belong in the adult court system.
“We’re talking about kids, and I think that occasionally we digress from that. A 17-year-old is a child,” Morrell said.
The bill, which is supported by Governor Edwards, heads to the House for more discussion.
May is Air Quality Awareness month, and the Department of Environmental Quality says Louisiana’s air quality is better than it’s been since the start of the Industrial Revolution. DEQ senior scientist Vivian Aucoin says that’s because they have improved the quality of the air in parts of the state where it was lacking.
“The state has worked very hard to bring all of the areas into compliance with the national ambient air quality standards,” Aucoin said.
Aucoin says everybody is doing their part to reduce pollution or unhealthy air, even major industrial facilities. She says environmental agencies have done well to enforce higher air quality standards.
“Most of what you see coming out of smokestacks at facilities is steam because we put on control measures. The EPA and the Department of Energy have done a lot to make our energy sources cleaner,” Aucoin said.
But Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Anne Rolfes, doesn’t think Louisiana’s air is any cleaner. She says the state does a poor job of monitoring the air in areas where it’s the worst.
“The Department of Environmental quality wouldn’t really know the air quality is like because simply do not monitor the air closely enough,” Rolfes said.
Rolfes says in neighborhoods near oil refineries and other plants, the air just stinks, literally. She says her organization works with the EPA to get air quality readings in those areas, and their information shows the air is not any cleaner.
“Those readings show, for example, the chemical hydrogen sulfide, which is a neurotoxin, at levels that meet or exceed some of the health screening levels,” Rolfes said.
Governor John Bel Edwards has kicked off his statewide tour to discuss Medicaid expansion. Over the next month, Edwards and Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, Dr. Rebekah Gee, will visit cities to raise awareness and answer questions about who will be eligible to enroll for the government health insurance on June 1st. Edwards also announced that the state’s health program has a new name.
“The Bayou Health Program will now fall under a new name called Healthy Louisiana. This new program name is more in line with our efforts to produce health outcomes in the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said.
State health officials say the expanded Medicaid program will be able to cover an estimated 350,000 working poor individuals. Edwards says he wants to make sure that the people of Louisiana have all the information they need when it comes to Medicaid expansion before enrollment begins.
“Beginning in June, individuals like the ones here with us today are going to be able to start enrolling in this new program. Their coverage will be effective on July 1,” Edwards said.
Edwards and Gee emphasized the importance of the new website healthy.la.gov, which provides information about the Medicaid expansion. Gee says people should understand their healthcare options, so they can choose the plan that’s best for them.
“Just like you can go online and see the quality of your pizza, you ought to be able to go online and see the quality of your healthcare providers and really make good decisions about how you choose your providers,” Gee said.
Officials across the Northshore announced today the beginning of "Operation Angel" - a program whereby a person addicted to drugs can walk into a police station and ask for help instead of being charged with a crime. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz says it's time law enforcement changes the way they do business.
"We think we should give those suffering from addiction the help they need, instead of handcuffs" said Lentz. "It's time to treat addiction as a disease and not a crime."
Lentz says this program would provide addicts with the help they need, without fear of being arrested. He says chemically dependent people would need to surrender any drugs they have, then they'll be escorted by an "angel" to walk them through the recovery process at the Giving Hope Retreat in Lacombe.
"This organization will provide help for addicts, ranging from heroin to alcohol, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Lentz.
Angecies participating include the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office, Slidell Police, Mandeville Police, Madisonville Police, Folsom Police and Pearl River Police.
Lentz says the only requirement is that an addict must want to change their life. He encourages those suffering from addiction in St. Tammany Parish communities to go to your police department or sheriff's office, and ask for help.
"You will not be charged with a crime. We will not ask you where you got your drugs from," said Lentz. "We would rather you spend 6 months in a treatment program, than 6 months in jail."