News for Monday 032816
By Dave Graichen
The Public Service Commission is expected to meet today for a special hearing on the sale of Pineville-based CLECO to Macquarie Infrastructure. The PSC rejected the proposal last month, and since then two sides have revised terms they say would further benefit the utility company’s employees and customers. CLECO and Macquarie have offered additional commitments including 100 million dollars of immediate rate relief for customers, and a 15 million dollar contribution to economic development in Louisiana.
Thirteen school tax referendums are on election ballots in Rapides Parish on April 9, including a new parish wide half-cent sales tax to boost employees’ pay. Early voting for April 9 elections throughout Central Louisiana got underway Saturday at the parish registrars of voters’ offices and will continue through this coming Saturday through 6pm. Voters should bring a photo ID with them when voting early.
Governor John Bel Edwards says changes to the TOPS scholarship program as we know it are likely coming, because of a 750-million dollar shortfall for next fiscal year’s budget. Edwards says because lawmakers are not able to raise additional revenues in this regular session, some tough cuts are needed. Edwards says the cost of the TOPS scholarship program is 300-million dollars this fiscal year and the price tag is expected to rise as colleges and universities hike tuition costs. The governor says in these tough budget times, many government services and programs will unfortunately suffer.
Louisiana disaster survivors in Jackson, Rapides, Red River and Sabine parishes may now be eligible for federal disaster assistance. Their first step is to register with FEMA. Assistance provided by FEMA for homeowners and renters can include grants for rent, temporary housing and home repairs to their primary residence, as well as other serious disaster-related needs, such as medical and dental expenses or funeral and burial costs. Low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also may be available to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s office is warning flood victims or those donating to charities that there are fraudulent people looking to make a quick buck. Spokesperson Ruth Wisher says they’re encouraging flood victims looking for home repair to get at least itemized, detailed bids from licensed contractors. She says if they are unlicensed that should be viewed as a red flag.
Legislative hearings begin today on the state’s spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1st. Over the course of the next two months, legislators will have to pass a budget that will contain 750-million dollars in cuts from the previous year. Edwards says since he’s been in office, 170-million dollars in budget cuts have been put in place. Edwards says despite the recent cuts to state funding and revenue increases, legislators will have to make some more difficult cuts, because of the large shortfall they are still facing.
It appears pharmacies who want to sell medical marijuana in the state will have to jump through a lot of hoops. Based on a bill moving through the legislature, an application fee of $5-thousand would be needed to cover inspections, background checks and paperwork. And Ville Platte Representative and pharmacist Harvey LeBas says federal law prohibits the sale of medical marijuana in the same facility where other prescriptions are sold. LeBas says once medical marijuana is available, it will only be sold at ten different locations around the state. He says there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the issue.
The State Department of Health and Hospitals says Louisiana’s tuberculosis case rate has fallen 43-percent since 2010. DHH Tuberculosis controller Michael Lacassagne attributes the decrease to a new blood testing procedure to improve the diagnosis. He says to keep the number down, they focus on high risk populations, like those with HIV or born outside of the country…