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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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Analsyt: Fleming in good shape to be re-elected

Political analyst Elliot Stonecipher says Republican Congressman John Fleming is in good shape to be re-elected to a fourth term. His latest campaign fundraising report shows the doctor from Minden has over one-million dollars on hand. There is speculation Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover may challenge Fleming, but Stonecipher doesn't see it happening.

"I don't believe anybody would think Mayor Glover be in the race nor is he in any political standing to challenge Congressman Fleming."
Stonecipher says the only way he sees Glover getting in the race is that if Senator Mary Landrieu encourages him to run, which will help bring more African-American voters to the polls.
Fleming raised 405-thousand dollars during the first quarter of 2014 and Stonecipher says there isn't another candidate out there who can raise that type of cash quickly. 


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2nd half of the legislative session begins Monday

The second-half of the legislative session begins Monday. So far lawmakers have talked about issues pertaining to Common Core, guns, abortion the levee lawsuit against oil companies, and chicken boxing. But Council for a Better Louisiana President Barry Erwin says the focus will soon turn to the budget.

"It's about to come out of the House Appropriations Committee in a week or so and then you'll see a lot of focus shifted to that." 
One debate that has yet to start in the session deals with the legalization of medical marijuana. Erwin anticipates an interesting debate on the subject. 
"You have some signals that folks are open to it."
The House Education Committee rejected a bill earlier in the session that would have kept Louisiana from going through with the Common Core academic standards. But Erwin doesn't think that debate is over with. He says expanding areas where people can bring concealed handguns is another debate that will continue. 
"By and large most pieces of legislation dealing with guns are going to pass, if they are dealing with expanding access."
There are some issues dead for the session, like a higher minimum wage and lighter sentences for repeat pot possession offenders. 

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An all-time high 2-million people working in Louisiana

For the first time in the state's history, there are two million people employed in Louisiana. That's based on data released today by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Louisiana Workforce Commission spokesperson Tom Guarisco says there's 35-thousand more people working in this state, compared to this time last year.
"Our private sector has been adding jobs for 42 straight months now," Guarisco said. 
In a statement, Governor Bobby Jindal said surpassing two million working Louisianians is proof that overhauling the ethics code, revamping the workforce training system and cutting taxes is paying off.
The state's unemployment rate is 4.5 percent. Guarisco says that's the best unemployment rate in the south.
"That tells us there's a good flow of people from the unemployment roles to jobs."
Leisure and hospitality had the biggest job gain of all sectors, adding 84-hundred jobs, followed by construction and education and health services. Guarisco says the number of employed should continue to grow in Louisiana. 
"We need 80,000 additional workers through 2016 to support all of the major industrial projects that have already been announced."

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Poll on US Senate race shows Cassidy defeating Landrieu in potential runoff

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a survey conducted by Harper Polling, incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu would lose to Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy in a runoff.

"It appears that Landrieu is in for the race of her life," says UL-Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross. "Perhaps for the first time she is entering the home stretch as a definite underdog."

The Republican group American Crossroads paid for the survey. In a primary, 40% of those polled support Landrieu and 35% support Cassidy while Republicans Rob Maness and Rep. Paul Hollis got four and three percent respectively.

But Cassidy would beat Landrieu 47-43 in a runoff.

Cross says the Democratic Senator faces a tough road.

"She was well ahead of her last opponent, John Kennedy, at this stage, polling above 50 or at least close to 50%," Cross said. "Now she's polling quite a bit below that and in the head up race is behind."

18% of respondents said they were undecided for the primary and 10% said the same in a runoff scenario.

Cross says this poll indicates there is support for candidates other than Cassidy and Landrieu, but when you put them together the votes move to Cassidy.

He says things could change if the GOP decides to endorse a candidate.

"If they were to do so, it would probably make Cassidy look even more formidable," said Cross.

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Gas prices are on the rise

If you're on the road this holiday weekend, be prepared to pay around $3.50 a gallon for regular gasoline. That's according to the American Automobile Association. Fuel analyst Don Redman says the price at the pump has increased 20 cents in the past month and gas prices are about eight cents higher than a year ago.

Redman says the rise in gas prices should end, once refineries complete the transition from a winter grade of gasoline to a summer blend.
"We're looking at $3.50 a gallon, potentially could go higher, anywhere between a nickel and ten cents until after the holidays," Redman said. "We expect by early May or late May those prices will come down." 
Redman says gas prices have not been this high since last July. He says the law of supply and demand is behind the higher prices. 

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Report says BP spill still impacting dolphins and sea turtles

With the four-year anniversary of the BP spill, The National Wildlife Federation releases a report that says dolphins and sea turtles are still dying in high numbers.  Senior policy specialist with the federation, Sara Gonzales-Rothi, says the evidence is stronger than ever that dolphins are suffering from effects connected to Deepwater Horizon.

"Dolphins are showing strong evidence of sickness related to BP oil.  So they're anemic, their immune systems are in trouble, they're having lung issues, and their teeth are even falling out."
Gulf-wide, dolphins were having health issues before the spill.  Although some issues are linked to the spill, Gonzales-Rothi says studies continue.
"When you talk gulf-wide, it's less clear at this point.  And so there's more study going on to determine why dolphins gulf-wide have been sicker since before the spill and continuing throughout the spill and in the years prior."
Since the spill the number of sea turtles in the gulf appear to have flat lined.  Roughly 500 stranded sea turtles have been found each year in the area.  Gonzales-Rothi says that number is significant.
"And the reason that the number 500 is significant is that it's very difficult to find stranded sea turtles so that number is higher than usual."
The report also says oyster reproduction remains low and the chemical used to break up the oil may be causing irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna.
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Soda consumption going down nationwide

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a leading beverage industry newsletter, there has been a big decline in soda consumption in the United States and it continues to drop. Denise Holston-West is a dietitian with the LSU Ag Center. She says the Beverage Digest report found that since the mid 90s, soda consumption per person, per year...has gone down about four gallons.

"In 1998 the average American consumed about 51 gallons of soda per year," Holston-West said. "And now we're finding it's about 44 gallons. That doesn't seem like a lot but it is."

Holston-West says people are becoming more aware of what they put in their bodies and recognize drinking sugary drinks could potentially impact their health in the future.

She also says it's getting expensive to have a regular soda drinking habit.

"The average cost of a 12 pack of soda has gone way up and in this economy people are choosing cheaper and healthier options," said Holston-West.

Holston-West says the biggest drop was in the consumption of diet sodas which fell 6 percent last year. She says people are concerned about artificial sweeteners even though they have been found to be safe.

Holston-West says she really hopes parents are starting to get the message that letting their kids drink sodas is a bad idea.

"They are in a time where they're growing, their bones are growing," said Holston-West. "We don't want them to be consuming large amounts of sugar sweetened beverages that actually take calcium out of bones."

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Man collapses and dies while attacking woman with machete in Opelousas

Michelle Southern reporting.
The St. Landry Parish Sheriff's office says a man died as he was apparently trying to attack a woman with a machete in Opelousas. Capt. Megan Vizena says they received a call from the victim who told dispatch a man was on top of her with a machete and that she'd been cut several times.
"What we know right now is that the male subject laid over and died," said Vizena. "It wasn't anything the female died. He sustained no injuries from her."

Vizena says they don't think the victim and the suspect knew each other and the motive for the break-in and attack remains under investigation.

She says the woman sustained several lacerations and is recovering at a local hospital.

Vizena says the victim was asleep when the attack was taking place but woke up and tried to escape.

"And she started fighting him off and in the victims words he just rolled over and died," said Vizena.

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