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U.S. Senator John Kennedy has attached an amendment to an appropriations bill to keep taxpayer money from going towards first-class airline tickets for federal employees. Kennedy says there’s only two reasons why a federal worker should receive a taxpayer funded first-class ticket.

"If there’s a medical reason or number two for security. It’s the security exception that’s been abused.”

The Senator says a federal audit found that federal employees have been misusing allowable upgrades to ride first class in 56% of cases. He says in a recent three-year period an extra one-million dollars in taxpayer money went to unnecessary first class tickets.

“There’s been abuse of first-class travel. We’re going to stop the abuse and that’s what my amendment will do.”

In a report released last March, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt allegedly spent 105,000 dollars on first class flights in his first year on the job. Kennedy says if his amendment makes it through Congress, even agency heads will not be able to fly first class unless there’s a legitimate medical or security reason.

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After a week of difficult negotiations, the House has approved legislation that sets Louisiana’s sales tax rate at 4.45 percent through mid-2025. That would be enough revenue to prevent cuts to higher education and the TOPS scholarship program next fiscal year. 



“Thank you for understanding the consequences of your vote," said Baton Rouge Representative Paula Davis. "Thank you for your leadership, your courage, your maturity, to move off your hard held positions and reach a reasonable compromise for the betterment of your constituents.”
 
Since the first special session in February, lawmakers have struggled to figure out a way to renew part of an expiring one-cent sales tax. Democrats pushed for half-a-cent renewal, while in this session Republicans sought four-tenths of a cent. They eventually comprised at .45 percent. Davis congratulates the two sides for coming together.

“Not all Republicans are happy with this, not all Democrats are happy with this, and not all Independents are happy, but we are going to go home today making our constituents happy knowing that we are fully funding their services.”

The measure needed 70 votes to pass and it got 74. It brought a sigh of relief to lawmakers who have been trying to solve the fiscal cliff.

Governor John Bel Edwards says the sales tax plan approved by the House is not perfect, but that's the nature of a compromise.
 
The tax bill will head to the Senate seeking approval. 

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While the Senate is continuing to wait on passage from the House for a solution to the upcoming fiscal cliff, Senate President John Alario says a “Back-up” has been proposed in the event gridlock continues over sales tax negotiations. 

“This is an effort to have some instrument in place just in case the house isn’t able to come to some compromise and find a way to fund the vital services of the state.”

Alario and New Orleans Senator JP Morrell have filed a resolution that would suspend the expiration of the one-cent sales tax for up to fourteen months.  The temporary penny sales tax is set to expire June 30th. Alario says it’s his hope the House will pass a sales tax renewal bill, but if they don’t, he would like a plan in place, so cuts do not occur to state services.

“We are just going to hold this in the Senate until we see that they have come to a complete crash. We are hoping that doesn’t happen. They are going to take up some instruments today and we hope they are very successful on it and there won’t be any need for the resolution.”

Alario says this is definitely not an ultimate fix to the budget issue and it would likely just continue the tax debate into the future.

 “The resolution allows it to go for a year and two months. That gives plenty time, I’m hoping that this gets resolved as we still will be facing another fiscal cliff coming next year so this is not a permanent solution at all.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states will now be able to collect sales taxes from online sales. The ruling gives states the authority to receive sales tax revenues on purchases made by consumers with a business that has no physical presence in that state.

However, Tax Foundation spokesperson John Buhl says Louisiana’s sales tax laws are too complex for them to take advantage of this ruling.

“Unless they undertake some serious implementations, we don’t anticipate that they would be a state poised to receive any of this revenue any time soon.”

Buhl says other states will struggle as well to reform tax laws.

“Modernizing the sales tax and making it simpler is something that is very difficult and can take years, so Louisiana in that respect is not alone at all.”

Even if Louisiana lines itself up to collect, creating logistics will not be a quick task.

“Expect that it is going take at least a couple months to get online and sort everything out. So states need to be patient about when they are going to see the revenue and when it’s going to start to ramp up.”

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An organization dedicated to preparing Democratic women for the challenge of running for office will hold its inaugural graduation this weekend. The Emerge Louisiana event will honor 22 class members who completed 70 hours of in-depth candidate training. Executive Director Melanie Oubre, says the program has a history of favorable outcomes for graduates in other states.

Executive Director of Emerge Louisiana Melanie Oubre, says the program has a history of favorable outcomes for graduates.

“They have trained over 4,000 women.  The women who they have trained and who have run, they win their races at a 70% win rate.”

Oubre says woman can look forward to learning many important factors of running for office.

“Women will learn public speaking, how to fund raise, how to build a campaign team.  They will also learn how to use social media in their campaign.”

In addition to the classes that take place in the program, Oubre says participants can expect to have a supportive community from Emerge Louisiana in the time beyond graduation.

“In addition to the great ‘win number’ that our women have once they get out of the program, they have a network of support here on the state level and the national level.”

Oubre says that two women in this graduating class have already announced they will be on ballots this fall and she says others will soon be announcing their candidacy for elections happening in 2019.

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Louisiana Congressman Ralph Abraham calls the passage of the Farm Bill in the U.S. House a great day for America’s farmers. Abraham, who is the only member of Louisiana’s delegation on the agriculture committee, says it will help farmers recover from natural disasters.

“At least they can go back to their banker and say, ‘Look, I can try this one more time.”

Abraham says the legislation heading to the Senate also requires able-body adults to either work or participate in a job training program for 20 hours per week in order remain eligible for food stamps. The Republican from Richland Parish, says job training is guaranteed in the bill.

“It’s an on-ramp for these people that certainly want to improve their lives and I can tell you living in the delta, practicing medicine for these good people that do struggle t make ends meet… they want these jobs.  They want this training.”

Abraham says the House version of the Farm Bill also has provisions in it to help Louisiana dairy farmers. He says its an industry that has seen a sharp decline over the last decade as they’ve had trouble competing against the big dairy producers in Wisconsin.

“This Farm Bill does help them with some price supports, so we will see what happens in dairy. These are our good people that work from daylight really to midnight sometimes.”

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Louisiana no longer leads the nation for its incarceration rate.  Governor John Bel Edwards says that unwanted distinction goes to Oklahoma. “It’s not a gigantic leap, it is a very favorable movement because for the first time in decades, we can say that we don’t have the highest incarceration rate,” Edwards said.

According to the latest data made public by the Advocate Newspaper, Oklahoma incarcerates 719 people per 100-thousand residents, while Louisiana is at 712 inmates per 100-thousand citizens.

When running for office, Edwards promised to reduce the state’s prison population and last year the legislature approved 10 criminal justice reform bills to jump-start the process.

“So, we know we’re moving in a better direction,” Edwards said.

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The Mighty Lions of Lafayette High School are working out in a new weight room today thanks to a generous donation by former NBA superstar Shaquille O’ Neal to help fund the project that cost a little over $40,000. Football coach Rob Pool was stunned when Shaq stepped in to fill the budget gap.

“It was a shock… really. We were just looking for him to endorse us and he went far beyond that. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Coach Pool says he feels Shaq’s donation sparked other contributions to get the weight room put together. Without it, it would have been another two years before they could have raised the necessary money.

“Your peace of mind was good after you knew you only had to get another thousand dollars to equal the match and we went beyond that.  Our parents and boasters really jumped in and helped as well.”

The coach says they do have plans to honor Shaq in the weight room.

“We going to do like a wall to commemorate the Shaquille O’Neal weight room so we’re going to recognize Shaq on the wall and then do some other stuff in there just to make it look first class.”

 Shaq’s donation was part of South Louisiana Giving Day, which is a project of the Community Foundation of Acadiana.


 

 

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LSU’s Mike the Tiger has gone viral after a video was posted of him slowly stalking several guests visiting his habitat. The guests turned their backs to Mike which prompted him to approach the glass enclosure before pouncing against it. The spokesperson for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, Ginger Guttner, asks Mike’s visitors to not turn their backs to him. 
 
"Tigers are ambush predators. They tend to come at you from behind. We also ask people not to bring pets or hold up stuffed animals. To him, all of that looks like prey.” 

Guttner explains this precaution is taken because of the potential harm Mike could suffer from hitting the glass.

“If he were to hit the glass really hard, he could break a tooth. Tooth loss is the number one cause of death for tigers in the wild. If he were to break a tooth, we'd probably have to have dental surgery, which would require anesthesia. Anesthesia has certain dangerous elements."  

Mike has only been at LSU for a year but has reportedly adapted very well to his new home. Guttner says even though Mike is still a playful juvenile, he is also a predatory animal. 

"I would say it's natural instinct, you know I would love to be able to ask him. What's playful for us may not be necessarily playful for him." 

  

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A vote on the House floor is expected today on three different sales tax bills that raise different amounts of money and they renew up to a half-cent of an expiring one-cent sales tax. Governor John Bel Edwards remains optimistic one of those bills will reach his desk, if not significant cuts will occur.

“For the first time in a long time you are seeing cuts to the National Guard, the department of veteran’s affairs. But it’s also higher education, right now higher education is in line for a 95 million dollar cut.”

During his monthly call-in show, Edwards told listeners the discussions he’s having with lawmakers are different during this third special and better than they were before.

“I’m quite honestly looking forward to success this time, and I know that the consequences of failure are catastrophic and I think that will propel us towards a successful conclusion too.”

The fiscal cliff arrives on July 1st and this third special session must conclude Wednesday. It will take 70 votes on the House floor today for these sales tax bills to advance to the Senate. Edwards says its anxious times.

“Obviously we are all just a little bit anxious because we have gotten too close to June 30th without resolving the cliff.”

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Over a hundred students from around the state congregated at the state capital in an effort to let their voices be heard on the topic of funding for higher education and TOPS. Among them, Kayla English of Delgado Community College, says she has optimism for funding and hopes others will make their voices heard.

 “The governor said there was enough in the budget to have higher education and health care funded. You know, tell them they want to fully fund higher education. Help students like me.”

Another participant, LSU SGA president Stewart Locket says the lack of funding may have students finding they can’t complete what they started with their educational endeavors.

“It will go into effect immediately.  Some people won’t be able to finish college.  I’ve gotten several stories saying, ’I wouldn’t have been able to attend college’ or ‘I won’t be able to finish college’ due to TOPS not being fully funded.”

Meanwhile, Jeremy Gray, another participant at the event said it’s important for legislators to not look at students as anything less than beneficial to the future of the state.

 ”It’s important to invest in the students and not look at them as a cost. The higher education budget creates talent within the state which creates jobs within the state. They also are tax payers.”

The governor addressed the crowd on hand during the event.

 

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Consensus five-star cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. of Baton Rouge committed to LSU via a tweet Wednesday afternoon and will shut down his recruitment for good. Stingley recorded 64 tackles and had 11 interceptions at Dunham High School last year.

 (photo courtesy of 247sports.com)

Tiger Rag Associate Editor James Moran on the Tiger Rag podcast is floored by the athleticism of the young athlete.

“Based on the physical stats that we have heard thrown around, he runs a 4.3 40. This kid's built like an NFL corner at age 16, now he’s celebrating his 17th birthday Wednesday.”

Tiger Rag Editor Cody Worsham says that Stingley alongside 5-star offensive guard Cardell Thomas of Baton Rouge could be the beginnings of an elite recruitment class.

“You now have the makings of a 2011 type class, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, La’el Collins. And it was built on that, it was built on enthusiastic kids committing early and then recruiting as commits other players to LSU and that’s what Cardell Thomas and Derek Stingley are going to do now.”

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The Louisiana Public Service Commission has approved the Wind Catcher plan from SWEPCO to purchase the nation’s largest wind-power project that is currently under construction in the Oklahoma panhandle.

  North Louisiana Commissioner Foster Campbell led the argument in favor of the proposed project.

"It's progressive and for Louisiana, we don't always do progressive things and this is a good thing.  First of all, wind is free," says Campbell.
 
The wind farm being built in Oklahoma requires no fuel to run and is projected to save SWEPCO customers billions of dollars over the life of the 25-year project. Campbell says it’s important for Louisiana residents to have more alternate energy options.

"The big oil companies don't want wind power.  They want to sell all the natural gas to make electricity.  But we've been dominated too long by oil and gas.  We have to diversify," says Campbell of the addition of wind power in Louisiana.

Campbell also says that customers are guaranteed cost savings with this clean energy option.

The project was approved in a 4-1 vote.  The sole vote of opposition came from Commissioner Craig Greene of Baton Rouge.
 
Greene stated "The costs to ratepayers are certain; the benefits are not.  Therefore, I oppose the project." 

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Three sales tax bills that raise revenue to different amounts are heading to the House floor for debate tomorrow after they received approval by the House Ways and Means tomorrow. Baton Rouge Representative Paula Davis received the most support as it renews an expiring one-cent penny by four-tenths of a cent. She calls it a great compromise.

“We did not pass Representative Harris’ bill at .3, we failed to pass Representative Leger’s bill at .5. Compromise is all about meeting in the middle so I thought great let’s try this out.”

Davis’ bill passed on a 12-5 vote. Members of the legislative black caucus didn’t vote for it, because they want a sales tax bill that renews half of the expiring one-cent sales tax. Davis is optimistic her legislation has the 70 votes to get approval by the full House.

“I have Republican colleagues who are not happy with this bill. I know that there are Democrats who are not happy with this bill, so maybe this is the right bill.”

The other sales tax proposals to pass would renew .33 of the expiring one-cent sales tax. Another measure renews half of the tax, but scale it down over time. Chairman Neil Abramson of New Orleans is optimistic the House can behind one of the bills.

“I am open-minded, other people have ideas, I want to work with you and I want to try and figure something out that gets us out of our current situation.”


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The separation of families coming into the United States illegally is causing a firestorm of controversy across the nation. President Trump now plans to sign an executive order to allow children to stay with parents attempting to cross the border unlawfully.

US Representative Ralph Abraham says he supports President Trump’s efforts.

“Don’t separate the families, but again don’t enter the country illegally either. Stop them at the border, send them back to their country as a family unit. Certainly do not send those children up to our border without their parents accompanying them.”

Abraham says he co-sponsored the Goodlatte-McCaul Bill. While he believes it could solve many of the border issues, he feels that there may not be enough support to pass the bill.

“Unfortunately I don’t even think on the Republican side we have the votes to pass that and that’s unfortunate. If the Goodlatte-McCaul Bill as it stands today would actually pass that would solve the border issue once and for all.”

Governor John Bel Edwards announced today he’s not removing a three-member Louisiana National Guard air team from the Mexico border that assists with border patrol. On his monthly call-in show, the governor says removing the team would risk the lives of law enforcement along the border.

“But I can’t reconcile myself to what would happen if we pulled out our helicopter. And you have law enforcement officers operating on the border who lack the night vision capabilities that our helicopter offers and they suffer as a result of that.”

Governor Edwards says in no way does he support removing families from their children.

“It just tears your heart out because you know it’s unnecessary. We understand the need to secure borders and make sure that criminals are not coming in, but we also know that when we are looking at those crying children they are not criminals.”

 

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A 59-year-old man walked out of prison as a free man for the first time in his adult life after serving over 40 years for a murder in Monroe. Gerald Manning's second-degree murder conviction was dropped in the 1977 death of Vonda Harris as a result of recent DNA testing His attorney, Kristin Wenstrom, says Manning accepted a a plea of lesser charges, which resulted in his release. 

“He was offered an opportunity to take an Alford plea to lessen offenses. It would permit him to receive time served and walk out of prison.”

Wenstrom says years of DNA testing contributed to ensuring that Manning could once again have his freedom.

“Over a number of years we did DNA testing on the evidence and the result of that showed that Gerald Manning’s DNA was not on any of the items that were tested and touched by the perpetrator.”

Wenstrom says the family of Vonda Harris has always supported Manning.

“They have never believed that Gerald had anything to do with the attack on Vonda Harris. They have always supported him in his cause and urge the district attorney and the police to search for the real perpetrator.”

Manning plans to reunite with his mother in Monroe. Due to the fact that he accepted a plea agreement, he left prison with no compensation and only the clothes on his back. A freedom fund and an Amazon wishlist have been set up for those that would like to help in his transition to the outside world. Find the details at laccr.org. 

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A major employer near the town of Simsboro in Lincoln Parish is expected to lay off about 200 employees next month. Ardagh Glass says the layoffs will take effect July 23rd. Simsboro Mayor Sybil Foster says the move will hit the community hard.

“It’s one of the major employers in our area, everybody’s going to feel some effect of it.”

Ardagh Glass produces glass containers for brands including Tabasco, Smucker’s, Tito’s Vodka, and others at the facility in Simsboro.  What is chipping away at the glass industry? The mayor says it is demand for other materials.

“Too many people are going to plastic containers, which cuts down on the need for glass.”

The mayor says the layoffs are expected to last for months and expressed her concern that production levels may not return to what they once were.

“They are saying that the layoffs may exceed six months, so I don’t know if the production will come back to the way it is now or if it will be reduced or what.”

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One of the top high school prospects in the country will decide today whether he’ll attend LSU, Florida or Texas. Cornerback Derek Stingley Junior of Dunham High School in Baton Rouge was recently ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s top recruit for the Class of 2019.
 
His father, Derek Stingley Senior, calls his son a freakish athlete with a will to win.

“Most of the time when the ball is in his hands, he making the big play whether it’s a touchdown on the offense side or an interception, kick return, punt return. He’s just that explosive.”

Derek Stingley Junior will make his decision known on Twitter at 1:30 and his post will include a video message. His Dad says he wants to attend a college where he’ll be comfortable on the football field and off.

“Derek wants to major in kinesiology. He wants to run a business, things like that.  So, he looked into those things to make sure that wherever he’s going to go they are going to have those majors.”

Derek Stingley Junior has been on LSU’s campus plenty of times and he also visited Texas and Florida outside of the football season, to get a better idea of what it’s like at those schools. His Dad explains why his son chose to announce his college commitment on social media, instead of having a big press conference with the hats of his favorite schools in front of him

“But he understands his position where he is with, you know, with being one of the top players in the country, but he’s never been that one to say, ‘Look at me,’ like he don’t want all that.”

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LSU Student Government hosts a rally at the State Capitol today to call for full funding of TOPS and higher education. If lawmakers do not act before the end of the fiscal year on June 30th, then students will face a 30% cut to TOPS and a $21 million dollar reduction in funding for LSU.

LSU Student Government President Stewart Lockett says they want to give students a voice about their future.

 “A lot of times people don’t rally for TOPS. Some times our higher administration can’t really rally for TOPS because they have to worry about the funding for the system as a whole.”

There have been debates on funding since the beginning of the first special session in February and lawmakers recently came seven votes short of passing a sales tax bill that would have fully funded TOPS and higher education. Lockett expresses his frustration of not knowing the fate of his University.

“I don’t know if I’m going to wake up and 5,000 students will be paid 2,000 dollars more in the fall or LSU is going to have to reduce 5% of their faculty and staff.”

Lockett says their message for lawmakers is simple and that is to stabilize higher education and TOPS. All public university systems are looped into this rally and the turnout is expected to be high.

“We’ll have representatives coming from Nicholls, Northwestern State, LSU-A, LSU-E, all over that state of Louisiana.  I think we’re going to have a lot of student representation. That’s what I’m excited for… different students, different stories”

To learn more about potential cuts to TOPS and higher ed, visit www.lsu.edu/budget.

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A new world record may belong to people of a nursing home in Crowley by the end of the week. Elder Outreach and Team Mergist will attempt the world’s longest game of bingo with 24 hours of continuous play starting today at Southwind Healthcare and Rehabilitation.

How did this all come together? Michelle Veillon, marketing and design director of the nonprofit organization Elder Outreach, explains this has been an event a decade in the making.

“Bingo is an important part of long term care, so if we’re going to play bingo, we decided, ‘let’s really play bingo’, so actually started looking at this about ten years ago.”

The game gets kicked off at 3 pm and will continue on through Thursday afternoon. Veillon says some players may even attempt to go the distance.

“We have teams of players coming in and out, but we do have some brave, core members who agreed to attempt to play for the 24 hours.”

The event does fall on Summer Soltice, which is the longest day of the year. Veillon says the event ties in with the significance on the day.

“It’s pretty symbolic.  It does fall on the Summer Solstice, June 21st and it’s about honoring the long periods of time in care-giving and it as well as they call Alzheimer’s the longest goodbye.”

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