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September 24, 2018 - 12:00 am

RUSTON-ALCOHOL

Lawsuit challenges Ruston alcohol election petition

(Information from: Ruston Daily Leader, http://www.rustonleader.com/)

RUSTON, La. (AP) — A Louisiana resident has filed suit to halt a planned referendum on whether grocery and convenience stores in his city should be allowed to sell wine and drinks with higher alcohol content.

A petition needed 2,500 verified signatures to force an election, and the Lincoln Parish Registrar of Voters validated 2,516.

The Ruston Daily Leader reports that Ben Humphries alleges possible irregularities in at least 30 signatures. He also claims some signers were not allowed to withdraw names.

The petition was put forward by a Texas consulting group, largely at the request of the Walmart Corp. and Brookshire Grocery Co. John Hatch of the Hatch Consulting Group says the petition is valid.

Registrar Dianna Stone says she's awaiting word from the state attorney general's office on what to do next.

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LSU HOSPITALS

Ochsner promises upgrades for north Louisiana hospitals

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Ochsner Health System says it intends to improve the safety-net hospitals in north Louisiana under its new management deal to operate the facilities.

Ochsner President and CEO Warner Thomas said Monday that operating rooms will be renovated, technology will be upgraded and equipment will be modernized as part of the management switch.

Thomas appeared with Gov. John Bel Edwards and others in Shreveport to celebrate the contract's signing.

A new company jointly controlled by Louisiana State University and Ochsner will take control of the state-owned hospitals in Shreveport and Monroe on Oct. 1. The facilities care for the poor and uninsured and help train LSU medical students.

The new company replaces BRF, which has managed the hospitals since 2013 and repeatedly clashed with LSU and state officials.

BABY BURNING DEATH

Prosecutor: Mom asked girlfriend to burn 6-month-old baby

(Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk, http://www.thetowntalk.com)

NATCHITOCHES, La. (AP) — A Louisiana prosecutor says a mother accused in her infant son's death asked her girlfriend to kill the baby.

Hanna Nicole Barker is being held without bond. A judge ruled Friday that there's probable cause to charge her as a principal to murder in the death of 6-month-old Levi Cole Ellerbee.

The Town Talk of Alexandria reports that defense attorney Dhu Thompson argued Friday in Natchitoches (NAK-uh-tesh) that the only evidence against Barker is a statement from the woman accused of setting the baby on fire. Thompson says Felicia Marie-Nicole Smith is just trying to get a better deal for herself.

Smith has been charged with first-degree murder, which can bring the death penalty.

Barker has not been indicted. A grand jury has heard the case against her.

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LOUISIANA CAPITOL REPAIRS

Louisiana Capitol front doors to reopen, with new walkway

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Visitors to the Louisiana Capitol will soon be able to walk through the building's front doors again, after nearly three years of closure. But the entrance will look different.

WBRZ-TV reports the 86-year-old building is getting a new covered walkway.

The walkway likely will clash with the Capitol's heralded Art Deco architecture. But it will allow people to safely walk up the front steps protected from the threat of bits of mortar falling from the 34-story facade.

A team of workers spent months this year repairing mortar and restoring limestone on the building's first six floors.

Louisiana Division of Administration spokesman Jacques Berry says the walkway will protect visitors until the state can afford to finish repairs, estimated to cost another $80 million.

Lawmakers have not approved that additional funding.

NATCHEZ BRIDGE REOPENING

Mississippi River bridge reopens at Natchez ahead of plan

NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — One of two bridges over the Mississippi River between Natchez, Mississippi, and Vidalia, Louisiana, has reopened months ahead of schedule after repairs.

Mississippi Department of Transportation spokesman Jas N Smith said Monday that crews finished restriping lanes on the eastbound and westbound bridges over the weekend.

He says landscaping, cleanup and sign work remains, but the major traffic impacts are mostly over.

The state spent $26.8 million to replace the pins that held the 77-year-old westbound bridge together and to repaint it. The bridge was closed for part of the time, with U.S. 84 traffic down to one lane each way.

The project was originally supposed to last until April, but Smith says contractors made rapid progress.

Officials earlier replaced the pins and repainted the newer eastbound bridge.

LOUISIANA FLOODING-CONGRESS

Congressional deal appears to solve Louisiana flooding issue

(Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Thousands of Louisiana flood victims who have been barred from homeowner rebuilding grants because they borrowed money through the federal Small Business Administration could soon see that change.

A deal to rework federal disaster-relief policy was included in a compromise struck by congressional leaders Saturday on an unrelated reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Advocate reports the bipartisan agreement is expected to be passed into law within weeks without significant additional changes.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana congressional delegation members praised the agreement after seeking the policy change for two years since flooding devastated the Baton Rouge region in August 2016.

Federal officials encouraged homeowners to take out low-interest loans from the SBA. But federal rules then kept those people from being eligible for federal disaster grant money.

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BOURBON STREET CLOSURES

Utility project closes Bourbon Street to vehicles for weeks

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The effort to rebuild utilities in New Orleans' French Quarter will close a block of its famed Bourbon Street to vehicular traffic for around 2 ½ months.

News outlets report the 500 block of Bourbon Street and the St. Louis intersection became closed to vehicles at 8 a.m. Monday. Depending on the weather, the St. Louis intersection will be closed for around five weeks, while the larger block will be off limits for around 75 days.

Despite the safety fencing and the lack of vehicular access, businesses along the corridor will remain accessible to pedestrians.

This work is part of the second phase of larger plan approaching $20 million. This $9.5 million phase will repair or replace broken water, sewerage and drainage pipes, repave the street and install new sidewalks.

SOLDIER INDICTED-CHEMICAL WEAPON

Sentencing for soldier who pleaded guilty to chemical weapon

Sentencing is set Monday for a soldier who pleaded guilty to making bombs that released chlorine gas in a forested training area near a U.S. Army base in Louisiana.

Twenty-five-year-old Ryan Keith Taylor, of New Llano, could get life in prison and a $250,000 fine on the single count of using a chemical weapon.

He pleaded guilty to the charge in June. Prosecutors agreed to drop a separate indictment charging him with possession of child pornography, saying they would do so after he is sentenced on the chemical weapon charge.

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