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Design work begins on new Capitol Complex building

Advocate staff photo by MARSHA SHULER -- Excavation work continues Friday on the site of the old state Department of Insurance building. It's part of planning and design work for a new legislative building.

Planning and design work has begun on a new legislative building, for which $30 million has been earmarked in the state construction program. The building is scheduled to be constructed on the site of the long-demolished Department of Insurance building on Fifth Street near the State Capitol. Work crews have been on-site excavating the area… Continue reading →

‘Not a perfect plan’: Legislators OK Jindal plan to cover deficit, to revisit budget under next governor

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, discusses Friday Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to bridge the mid-year deficit. Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, is right. The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget approved the governor's proposal.

Fearful that rejecting his plan to bridge the deficit gap would give Gov. Bobby Jindal license to whack higher education spending, legislators approved Friday his proposal to cover a nearly $500 million shortfall in this year’s budget. Both candidates for governor in Saturday’s election — Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter… Continue reading →

Louisiana road fatalities, crashes down sharply

Deaths on Louisiana roads plunged 20 percent in recent years, and fatal crashes are down 28 percent, according to officials and a new state report. The state experienced 651 fatal crashes in 2013, down from 900 in 2007, according to figures included in a report issued Thursday by the state Department of Transportation and Development. Injury… Continue reading →

Panel approves sweeping road, bridge improvements but unsure where funding will come from

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- A DOTD sign warns drivers of congestion on westbound Interstate 10 into East Baton Rouge Parish by way of the Mississippi River Bridge, Friday, July 25, 2014 in West Baton Rouge.

A key state panel Thursday approved a blueprint for sweeping Louisiana road and bridge improvements, with one huge catch — it all requires a major infusion of money. The list includes widening Interstate 10 between the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge and the I-10/12 split; making I-10 eight lanes between Williams Boulevard and Veterans Boulevard in… Continue reading →

Higher education spared in plan to eliminate Louisiana government's $500M deficit

Advocate Photo  Stafford Palmieri, Gov. Bobby Jindals deputy chief of staff, and state Rep. Bryan Adams, R-Gretna, discuss in April legislation that, in part, would remove the Legislative Auditor from oversight of higher education contracts with private businesses.

Colleges and universities were spared by the Jindal administration proposal to rebalance the state’s operating budget; that means health care will bear the brunt of reducing a mid-year deficit of about $487 million. Commissioner of Administration Stafford Palmieri explained that budget writers strung together new revenues from lawsuit settlements, sweeps of unused dollars, about $149.7 million in… Continue reading →

Louisiana tax amnesty program temporarily shut down after incorrect letters sent out

Louisiana’s tax amnesty program is on hold until December because an incorrect batch of letters went out advertising the program. The Department of Revenue announced Tuesday that the program was suspended until Dec. 1 and will run until Dec. 31. Revenue Secretary Tim Barfield said some letters sent to taxpayers notifying them about their eligibility went… Continue reading →

State ATC commissioner leaving office at end of December

The head of Louisiana’s Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control is leaving at the end of December. In a news release Tuesday, Commissioner Troy Hebert announced his resignation after serving in the post for five years. He says he looks forward to spending time with family and didn’t rule out a possible future political run. The… Continue reading →

With expected $500 million shortfall, Jindal administration promises plan to balance budget

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Senate President John Alario, left, and LSU Economist Jim Richardson hear unexpectedly bad news about the state's revenue picture during a meeting Monday of the Revenue Estimating Conference.

Louisiana again will have to correct the state’s operating budget midyear to account for fewer revenues than anticipated. This time the collections of taxes — particularly corporate and severance — and royalties are coming in $370 million less than the forecast on which the spending plan for Fiscal Year 2016 was drafted. The Revenue Estimating… Continue reading →

DOTD chief says she plans to leave agency in early 2016

Advocate staff file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas.

Sherri LeBas, the first woman secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said Thursday she plans to leave the agency early next year. “I don’t have a set retirement date at this point,” LeBas said. “I am thinking early spring. So, I am playing that by ear.” She said she hopes to help with… Continue reading →

Why Louisiana Fiscal Office has backed off its Medicaid expansion savings projection

The Legislative Fiscal Office is backing off its projection of potential state savings associated with Medicaid expansion. The Fiscal Office estimated approximately $55 million in savings in the first year and over five years anywhere between $102 million and $165 million. But a plan adopted by the 2015 Legislature makes those projections unrealistic, according to a… Continue reading →

Work requirement for food stamp recipients 'unreasonably harsh,' must go, group tells Jindal

In this Sept. 10, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Molly Riley, File)

A New Orleans organization advocating for low-income residents urged Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration to end a new minimum work requirement enacted for more than 60,000 food stamp recipients. The group Stand With Dignity sent a complaint letter to Jindal and his Department of Children and Families Services secretary, Suzy Sonnier, calling the work requirements “unreasonably harsh.”… Continue reading →

Louisiana gets another 'F' for premature births in national survey

Louisiana continues to get a failing grade when it comes to the number of premature births, according to a new national survey by the March of Dimes released Thursday. Louisiana received an F on the report card that for the first time also graded the state’s cities. Louisiana’s pre-term birth rate was 12.3 percent in 2014… Continue reading →

Louisiana’s latest tax amnesty period begins Nov. 16

Delinquent taxpayers in Louisiana have one last shot to pay what they owe with lessened penalties and interest charges. The state Revenue Department announced Monday that Louisiana’s latest tax amnesty period begins Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 15. It’s the third year in a row the state is offering amnesty to those who haven’t paid what… Continue reading →

Last chance? Louisiana offers tax amnesty period beginning Nov. 16

Delinquent taxpayers in Louisiana have one last shot to pay what they owe with lessened penalties and interest charges. The state revenue department announced Monday that Louisiana’s latest tax amnesty period begins Nov. 16 and runs through Dec. 15. It’s the third year in a row the state is offering amnesty to those who haven’t paid what… Continue reading →

DHH announces Medicaid deficit, fix

The state health agency is running a $516.1 million budget shortfall, but officials said Friday they have identified “internal solutions” to close the gap. The fix won’t impact current Medicaid services or the provider fees hospitals, physicians and other health care providers receive for delivering care, state Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said.… Continue reading →

State health chief advocates ‘restructuring” LSU hospital deals

With state Medicaid costs rising, a Jindal administration official said Monday that the private contracts for managing the LSU charity hospitals need to be “restructured” because of the financial commitments made in them. State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert’s brief comment marked the first time an administration official talked about the need for changes in… Continue reading →

Task force criticized for gathering data on how much immigrants cost state, but not how much they contribute

Valarie Hodges

A legislatively authorized panel gathering data on how much immigrants cost Louisiana was criticized for pursuing a partisan agenda during its Thursday meeting at the State Capitol. “This is a sham,” Bienville House Center for Peace and Justice official Brian Marks said. “You are looking at the expense of immigrants … but not what immigrants… Continue reading →

Panel rejects $800 million 'inner loop' plan to ease Baton Rouge traffic, citing state price tag as factor

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- From left, Brad Guilmino, Assoc. VP & Chief Finance Consultant for HNTB, and Jeff Burst, DOTD Project Management Director, watch as Cheryl Duvieilh, DOTD Executive Counsel, answers a question. Guilmino was explaining a plan by engineering firm AECOM to build an $800 million "Inner Loop" through Baton Rouge. The plan was facing review by the Louisiana Transportation Committee.

A bid by a giant engineering firm to build an $800 million, high-speed toll road around Baton Rouge was rejected Tuesday by a state panel. The decision came after a consultant hired by the state said the project could cost taxpayers up to $400 million, which backers disputed. Sherri LeBas, secretary of the state… Continue reading →

Ethics violations result in $10,000 fine

A former employee of the Louisiana Military Department and his wife have agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle ethics charges against them. The Louisiana Board of Ethics signed off Friday on the settlement agreement involving George and Debra Ansardi. The case involve construction and renovation work done at Gillis Long Center in Carville by… Continue reading →

Judge rules Bobby Jindal lawyers to testify about decision to cancel Medicaid contract

State attorneys must testify about what went into the decision to abruptly cancel a nearly $200 million Medicaid contract, 19th Judicial District Court Judge Tim Kelley ruled Tuesday. Client Network Services Inc. sought to depose Jindal administration lawyers as well as state assistant attorney generals, arguing that “critical details” about the decision to terminate “remain murky.”… Continue reading →

Head of Louisiana Veterans Affairs steps down after probes look at conditions, oversight at nursing homes

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- La. Dept. of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary David LaCerte, inside the East Baton Rouge Parish Veterans Affairs new office, at its new location at 1755 Florida Boulevard, where it opens for business Thursday.

Dual investigations into conditions at nursing homes for veterans apparently led the Cabinet-level head of the state Department of Veterans Affairs to step down late Thursday. David LaCerte refused comment late Thursday on his resignation as secretary. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press office says the Inspector General’s Office is investigating and referred all questions to Inspector General… Continue reading →

Despite positive evaluations, most state employees did not get their Oct. 1 pay raises

More than 35,000 of Louisiana’s rank-and-file classified employees received their favorable evaluations, but they’re not getting their pay raises. Officials at most state government agencies say they don’t have the money and would have to lay off employees to grant the 4 percent salary increases. The pay bumps were scheduled to take place Oct. 1, but… Continue reading →

State Capitol bollards damage staff attorney's Jeep; security device has damaged 15 vehicles this year

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Security bollards are a part of the new Capitol parking system...lowering when a car with a valid permit is scanned and rising again after the vehicle has moved past. Several accidents involving the security barriers have occurred since the start of the Legislative session.

It’s happened again. The security bollards at the State Capitol claimed another vehicle — the 15th incident of record. The wreck occurred early Thursday evening as Louisiana Senate staff attorney Martha Hess was leaving the Capitol parking lot, State Police Lt. J.B. Slaton said. Slaton said the accident report had not been filed by public… Continue reading →

'Win-win' or 'heartless'? New state Food Stamp policy means 64,000 must find work or be booted from program

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier

A change in state policy could result in 64,000 Louisiana residents losing their food stamp benefits — nearly one-third of them in Mid-City New Orleans, northern neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish and western areas of Jefferson Parish. The individuals must find part-time work or be involved in workforce training by Jan. 1, otherwise they will be… Continue reading →

Louisiana treasurer refuses to transfer funds to help balance budget, says not enough money to go around

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Treasurer John Kennedy.

The state treasurer refused to move money from various funds to help balance the budget, saying the promised money just isn’t there. “They estimated $12 million that would come in, that didn’t come in.” said State Treasurer John N. Kennedy. Therefore, Kennedy said he was unable to transfer monies needed to cover spending for the fiscal… Continue reading →

Two ex-Louisiana auditors face ethics charges alleging misuse of public funds for events like Mardi Gras, NBA All-Star game

Two former Department of Children & Family Services auditors joined their boss in facing ethics charges related to the misuse of public funds. The Louisiana Board of Ethics alleges Kaneasha Goston and Corey Polk violated state law by receiving things of economic value to which they were not entitled for the performance of their jobs.… Continue reading →

Cost of abortion clinic lawsuit continues to rise; contract benefits Louisiana legislator

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Gov. Bobby Jindal, left, and Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, talk to the media about the religious freedom bill sponsored by Rep. Johnson.

A contract that pays a state legislator for legal services related to a federal lawsuit over abortion clinic restrictions is getting more costly. An amendment to the deal, awaiting final approval, will increase the maximum contract amount to $750,000 — seven times the original $100,000 ceiling. The Jindal administration has signed off on the change… Continue reading →

Unexpected volume of tax credit usage helped cause pending fiscal budget deficit

Louisiana’s expected deficit for last year is driven at least partially by people and businesses cashing in on more tax refunds and credits than anticipated, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief budget adviser said Friday. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said it’s likely the state closed the books on the last budget year in the red. But she said… Continue reading →

LSU hospital privatization deal crumbling in Shreveport, Monroe

LSU has pulled the plug on its contract with the private manager of its hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe, claiming breach of contract. The deal was one of the agreements struck as Gov. Bobby Jindal moved to turn management of LSU hospitals around the state to private entities. The Jindal administration supports LSU’s decision, according to… Continue reading →

LSU cancels privatization contract with Shreveport, Monroe hospitals

. LSU has pulled the plug on its contract for Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana operation of public hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe. LSU served formal notice to the Foundation, citing breach of the public purpose set forth in the cooperative endeavor agreement. CEA. Under that agreement, BRF must withdraw as the parent company of University Health… Continue reading →

Bobby Jindal's chief of staff has car wrecked by security bollards at State Capitol

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- The sport utility vehicle of Melissa Mann, the chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, was the latest to be caught by security bollards at the State Capitol.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff got caught Thursday afternoon by the security bollards at the State Capitol. Melissa Mann was driving into the parking lot behind the State Capitol when the steel poles that restrict entrance came up and wrecked the front of her Dodge Durango SUV. Mann left the police at the scene to handle the… Continue reading →

State officials estimating Louisiana ended latest fiscal year in the red

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2015 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is quietly notifying legislative leaders that Louisiana closed the books on the last budget year with a deficit, but the administration isn’t saying publicly how deep the problem is. The announcement of the deficit’s size is expected in mid-October, when details are due to the Legislature’s joint budget committee. State Treasurer John… Continue reading →

Public-private 'inner loop' idea to ease Baton Rouge traffic faces key review on Oct. 20

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- This photo taken on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, shows an aerial view of the Interstate 10 bridge over the Mississippi River near Downtown Baton Rouge, La.

Whether an $800 million “inner loop” toll road proposal around Baton Rouge is feasible enough to keep pursuing will be up for discussion on Oct. 20 by a key state committee. The long-shot plan, which surfaced in January, is called the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan, or BUMP. It would link interstates… Continue reading →

Capitol Access Road construction about to cause more traffic headaches for downtown workers, Spanish Town residents

Advocate Photo by MARSHA SHULER -- Road closed signs are ready to be posted at the bridge by the Governor's Mansion on Tuesday morning and block traffic headed to the State Capitol from the Capitol Access Road off Interstate 110.

The Capitol Access Road is closed at the bridge near the Governor’s Mansion due to road construction related to a State Capitol security upgrade. The road won’t reopen until Jan. 5. The shutdown means more traffic headaches for downtown workers as well as residents of Spanish Town as they navigate an ever-changing network of… Continue reading →

Commission's decision on New Orleans East housing complex gives way for others to purchase property

The Louisiana State Bond Commission on Thursday rejected funding for a controversial New Orleans affordable housing project that was sought by a Memphis, Tennessee-based religious organization with a history of problems managing lower-cost apartment complexes. The Rev. Richard Hamlet and his Global Ministries Foundation had sought $24.5 million to buy and rehabilitate the 442-unit… Continue reading →

Civil Service director hired by Louisiana House to take over human resources

Civil Service director Shannon Templet has left the top job at the state government agency that oversees personnel practices and pay for about 37,500 classified employees. Templet has been hired away by the Louisiana House of Representatives and is now its director of human resources. Her duties involve handling personnel issues involving legislators and their assistants, full- and part-time… Continue reading →

U.S. House of Representatives to vote this month on lifting oil-export ban

Washington — The U.S. House will vote this month on lifting the 40-year-old ban on exports of crude oil, a policy change backed by Louisiana members of Congress who say it will create jobs in the state, the office of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Tuesday. The House Energy & Commerce Committee is expected to vote this week on… Continue reading →