Louisiana news briefs
Lawmakers back ban on drivers using social media
BATON ROUGE — An attempt to ban posting to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites while driving is nearing final passage in the Louisiana Legislature.
The proposal, approved Monday by the House transportation committee, is designed to close what lawmakers call a loophole in the state law that prohibits texting and driving.
The Senate-approved bill would add accessing, reading and posting to social media sites to the prohibition. It heads next to the full House.
La. company agrees to pay $2M in back wages
LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette-based industrial services employment agency has agreed to pay nearly $2 million in back wages to more than 2,000 employees following a U.S. Labor Department investigation.
The Labor Department said Monday that Hutco Inc. employees in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas were denied overtime compensation as a result of the company’s improper payment and record-keeping practices.
The department said Hutco impermissibly excluded “per diem” wages when calculating employees’ overtime premiums.
The employees eligible to recover back wages from Hutco include welders, electricians, painters, forklift operators and warehouse personnel.
The department said it has referred the case to the Louisiana Workforce Commission for further review.
Medicaid contractor sues Jindal administration
BATON ROUGE — A Maryland-based company whose nearly $200 million Medicaid contract was canceled amid an ongoing federal investigation sued Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration Monday for terminating the deal.
Client Network Services Inc., known as CNSI, filed the lawsuit in state district court in Baton Rouge, claiming the contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals was improperly canceled.
“DHH and the administration continue to lob vague accusations against CNSI without producing one shred of evidence that termination of the contract is justified under the contract,” said Kathryn Harris, general counsel for the company, in a statement.
CNSI is seeking compensation for all work done, reimbursement for its costs, loss of anticipated profits and unspecified financial damages for harm to its reputation.
The Jindal administration scrapped the 10-year contract on March 21, after details emerged about a federal subpoena seeking information about the contract award. A separate state investigation by the attorney general’s office also is ongoing.
Plastic bag tax scrapped
BATON ROUGE — A Baton Rouge lawmaker has shelved her proposal to add a new 5-cent state tax on plastic bags, like those used at grocery stores.
Rep. Regina Barrow, a Democrat, told the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday that she wouldn’t pursue the tax this session, because she knew it couldn’t gain passage.
Barrow says she’ll continue to explore the idea for future sessions.
Harmon seeks new trial
in 1989 slaying
LAFAYETTE — Danny Harmon Jr. has asked state District Judge Glennon Everett for a new trial after Harmon was convicted April 30 of second-degree murder in a 1989 slaying.
In a six-page motion filed late Friday, Alfred Boustany II, Harmon’s lead attorney, raised several issues that occurred during the five-day trial that he says should warrant a new trial.
Boustany said prosecutors never put on evidence that directly linked Harmon to Christine Marie Wood’s killing.
Wood was found dead and her body burned July 25, 1989. Prosecutors said Wood had been raped, her throat sliced and three bullets fired into her head. Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton Jr. told jurors that Harmon killed Wood to keep her quiet about being raped.
Work continues on traffic plan for CCC toll plaza
NEW ORLEANS — With the Crescent City Connection tolls eliminated, state transportation officials are continuing work on a traffic plan for the toll plaza.
Voters handily rejected a 20-year extension of the tolls Saturday after the second vote on the issue.
The Department of Transportation and Development said engineers will “monitor traffic patterns on the bridge and adjust as needed.
Late last year, transportation officials said reconfiguring the toll plaza could take at least six months. The work would involve restriping the elevated West Bank Expressway and demolishing the toll booths.
Broussard reports to prison
NEW ORLEANS — Former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard on Monday started serving a federal prison sentence of nearly four years for his role in a bribery plot and payroll fraud scheme.
Broussard reported to the low-security facility at a prison in Butner, N.C., according to a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Broussard was sentenced in February to 46 months in prison. He pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy and theft charges.
Broussard was charged with plotting to secure a lucrative parish job for his former wife, Karen Parker. Prosecutors say Parker was paid $323,000 over six years for a job she wasn’t qualified to hold and never performed.
Parker and former parish attorney, Tom Wilkinson, also pleaded guilty in the case and received probation.
Broussard also pleaded guilty to accepting payoffs to steer parish work to the owner of a telecommunications equipment and services company. The company’s owner, William Mack, allegedly paid Broussard roughly $66,000 during his time in office in exchange for steering about $40,000 in parish work to Mack’s company.
Broussard, a Democrat, resigned as president of one of the state’s most populous parishes in 2010, ending a political career that spanned four decades.
Medicaid expansion bill headed for budget review
BATON ROUGE — A proposal for Louisiana to tap into the federal health overhaul money available for expanding Medicaid has been steered to the Senate budget committee for review.
The measure would require the state health department to seek federal approval for a program using the expansion dollars to provide private insurance.
The bill has received the backing of the Senate’s health committee. It was reassigned Monday to the Senate Finance Committee.
The measure seeks to provide health insurance coverage to adults making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — less than $32,000 for a family of four — as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government would pay for most of the coverage.
Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the expansion.
School changes delayed
The House agreed Monday to two separate bills that would delay the use of a new formula for calculating school performance grades and the disciplinary effects of a new statewide teacher evaluation program.
The new accountability formula, which would include ACT test scores at the high school, would have been applied to school and district performance scores released later this year.
Instead, the proposal (House Bill 466) by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, would require the state to use the same formula and accountability policies applied in the 2011-12 school year until the House and Senate Education committees approve any change.
The bill passed in a 70-28 vote and heads to the Senate for debate.
Meanwhile, a measure (House Bill 160) by Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, garnered unanimous support for postponing for one year the use of evaluations in determining the effectiveness of teachers for retention or termination.
From The Associated Press.