News for Monday 121916
By Dave Graichen
With budget shortfalls still looming, higher education leaders are looking at more potential changes to the TOPS scholarship program. Higher Ed Commissioner Joe Rallo says one option being discussed is raising the hourly requirement for the scholarship from 24 credits per year to 30. He says the idea is to encourage students to graduate more quickly, as TOPS only covers 8 semesters. Rallo says this is just one of several changes they’re considering to stabilize the program. Lawmakers are hopeful they can find the necessary $89 million to fully fund the program next year, but Rallo says changes will likely come to TOPS whether or not it’s fully funded.
There’s talk around the Capitol about the potential for another special session to address a looming $300 million budget shortfall for this fiscal year. That’s according to La-politics-dot-com, who heard that from a source within the Edwards administration. The Revenue Estimating Committee meets again in January, so lawmakers will have a better idea of how much money is available.
Today, Louisiana’s 8 electors will cast their votes for President-elect Donald Trump. Scott Wilfong is one of those electors. Wilfong says each elector will cast his or her ballot in their respective state capitals today. He says the votes will then be sent to Washington, where the new Congress will read them when they convene in January. Wilfong says he and other electors have received hundreds of phone calls, emails, and letters asking them not to vote for Mr. Trump. But he says it would be a disservice to the people of Louisiana to go against their votes. However, he does expect some electors will be swayed.
David Vitter has just two weeks left in office as a U.S Senator. Vitter says representing and serving the people of Louisiana has been the greatest honor of his professional life. He says he’s most proud of his work in the post-Katrina recovery, as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the coast just months after Vitter was sworn in as a Senator. Vitter served as Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District Representative from 1999 to 2004 and as a US Senator since 2005. Prior to that, Vitter served in Louisiana’s House of Representatives from 1992 to 1999.
Louisiana is no longer the least healthy state in the country, according to the United Health Foundation. State Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee says this is great news, but unfortunately Louisiana still ranks 49th in the nation for overall health. She says the state has high rates of low birth weight, infant mortality, and obesity. Mississippi was the only state found to be less healthy than Louisiana.
Governor John Bel Edwards has issued a public health emergency in St. Joseph after testing found levels of lead and copper in the public water system that has been poorly maintained for years. Bottled water has been sent into the Tensas Parish town as health officials are advising residents to use an alternative source of water to drink, brush their teeth and food preparation.
Louisiana Willdlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon tells the Associated Press he’s been forced out from his Cabinet Position. Melancon says he’s not been given a reason why, but he’s had public disagreements with recreational fishermen and has been criticized for his handling of agency changes that have been recommended by state auditors. A spokesperson for the governor says there’s been unnecessary public battles as the agency tries to reform.
Fewer Louisianans are smoking cigarettes, according to the United Health Foundation. The report found 22-percent of Louisiana residents are smokers, compared to 24-percent in 2015. CEO of the Smoking Cessation Trust, Mike Rogers, credits legislation that bans smoking in bars and casinos, like one that was passed in New Orleans last year. Louisiana now ranks 43rd in the country for the rate of smokers, up from 46th last year.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette has decided not to play in the Citrus Bowl, so he can give his injured ankle more time to heal and allow his body to get ready for the NFL draft. Tigers Coach Ed Orgeron supports the decision, but he’ll miss the dynamic running back.