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September 20, 2018 - 12:00 am

LOUISIANA BUDGET

Edwards: Louisiana surplus driven by income tax collections

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards hailed news Louisiana will have an estimated $300 million surplus from the last budget year. Edwards says the money comes from better-than-expected income personal and business tax collections.

The Democratic governor said Thursday the surplus is a sign of Louisiana's improving economic conditions, with more people gaining jobs.

Some conservative Republican lawmakers have suggested the excess revenue shows Edwards exaggerated the need for taxes to plug budget gaps.

The governor called that criticism ridiculous, saying Louisiana's income estimates are moving targets and it's better to have a surplus than a deficit.

Under Louisiana's constitution, surplus dollars can only be spent on certain one-time expenses, like debt payments, savings account deposits and construction work. Edwards and lawmakers will decide the spending plan in the 2019 legislative session.

BODY IN CAR-TRIAL

Man convicted in 2015 death of Louisiana woman

(Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A man has been convicted in the 2015 death of a Louisiana woman whose body was found in her burned car.

Nola.com/The Times-Picayune reported a New Orleans jury convicted 30-year-old Troy Varnado of second-degree murder Wednesday night in the death of 31-year-old Lindsay Nichols of Des Allemands.

Varnado was also convicted of second-degree kidnapping and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said Varnado and Thayon Samson chased Nichols out of Samson's apartment, beat her, and put her in the truck. She later was shot and her car was set on fire burned.

Sampson pleaded guilty earlier this month to manslaughter, kidnapping and other charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Varnado is to get a life sentence during an Oct. 30 hearing.

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MARINES-RAPE ARRESTS

Rape charges not pursued against marines, former student

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Prosecutors in Louisiana have refused to pursue charges against three Marines and a Tulane University graduate accused of rape.

News outlets report Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office announced Wednesday that the charges were being refused.

Twenty-year-old Alexander Davenport, 22-year-old Matthew Farrell and 19-year-olds Antonio Landrum and Jared Anderson were accused of raping at least one woman while visiting a New Orleans home this year.

Detective Anya Coleman testified at a June hearing that one of two women involved in the case had texted a roommate during the reported assault that "everything was fine."

Coleman said the other woman declined to undergo a sexual assault exam. Coleman also has said the timeline provided by the women was confusing.

CHILD RAPE-PLEA DEAL

Prosecutor: Rapist's plea deal spared child from testifying

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans man who pleaded guilty to the 2017 rape of a child has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office said in a Wednesday news release that 34-year-old Archie Gordon pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree rape. The release said Gordon had originally been charged with first-degree rape and faced a possible life sentence. It said a plea agreement was reached at the urging of the victim's mother, who wanted to avoid her daughter testifying at trial.

Cannizzaro said the deal resulted in a significant sentence, while sparing the victim from having to suffer through a trial.

Gordon was arrested after the girl and her mother reported the rape to police in 2017, when the victim was 9 years old.

EDWARDS-TEACHER PAY

Edwards says teacher pay hike will be top priority next year

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards says a teacher pay raise is his "number one priority" in next year's legislative session.

The Democratic governor, elected with the support of teacher unions, said Wednesday he'll seek a $1,000 across-the-board pay raise for teachers in the 2019 session. He'll also push a $500 raise for school support employees, such as cafeteria workers and classroom aides.

The price tag, if lawmakers agree, would be $114 million.

Edwards said on his monthly radio show he's confident "we're going to be able to make that happen."

The proposal comes as teachers in other states staged strikes for pay hikes and as Edwards moves into the year he's running for re-election.

Louisiana teachers' average salary is just under $50,000. Edwards says that's $2,200 less than the Southern average.

CARNEGIE HEROES

Woman who saved boy from dog attack among 16 Carnegie heroes

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A receptionist who used a child's booster seat to fight off a pit bull that was attacking a 12-year-old boy is one of 16 people being honored with Carnegie medals for heroism.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, based in Pittsburgh, announced the winners on Thursday.

Ana Ramirez was driving home on April 18, 2017 when she saw Jose Ramos and his husky being attacked by two 65-pound (30-kilogram) dogs. One fled when she honked her horn and she beat the other with a child's booster seat until it ran away. She escorted the boy home and both were treated for bite marks.

The Hero Fund commission was founded and endowed by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. It has given $40.4 million to 10,044 awardees or their families since 1904.

CONGRESSMAN-SCHOOL CHRISTIANS-LOUISIANA

US Rep: Atheists trying to spy on Christian student groups

(Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com)

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — A northwest Louisiana congressman says "atheist litigation groups" are trying to spy on Christian student groups at a school in his district.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson made the allegation on what is described as his "campaign/personal Facebook page."

The Times of Shreveport reports that he declined through a spokeswoman to answer questions about the alleged attempts to get private investigators to make hidden video of Christian activities at Benton High School, or to name the source of what his post describes as "very credible information."

A trial is scheduled April 8 in a federal lawsuit alleging that Bossier Parish schools promote Christianity.

It was filed by Washington-based Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. That group says it has not hired investigators to spy on students.

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PIPELINE FIGHT

Appeal court looks at permit for Bayou Bridge Pipeline

GRETNA, La. (AP) — A state appeal court is reviewing a judge's order that state regulators reconsider the issuance of a permit for construction of part of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in south Louisiana.

Judge Alvin Turner said in April that the Department of Natural Resources violated state guidelines in issuing the permit. He returned the case to the department and said DNR must require Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC to develop emergency evacuation plans in case of a spill.

A state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal panel in Gretna heard arguments Wednesday. It's unclear when it will rule.

Turner's ruling didn't stop construction, which Bayou Bridge has said will be completed late this year.

Other pending court fights include a challenge to Bayou Bridge's right to obtain property through a process called expropriation.

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