Louisiana news briefs

From The Associated Press.
DHH confirms 
another West Nile death 
BATON ROUGE (AP) — The state Department of Health and Hospitals on Friday confirmed Louisiana’s fourth West Nile virus death this year.
DHH said the death is from Ouachita Parish, the second death in that parish this year. The state’s health department also confirmed four new West Nile virus cases this week, bringing this year’s total to 55 cases.
This week’s new infections include two cases of neuroinvasive disease, one each in Acadia and Rapides parishes, and two cases of West Nile fever, one each in Bossier and Caddo parishes.
People get West Nile when they are bitten by infected mosquitoes. About 90 percent of infected people never have any symptoms.
Last year, Louisiana reported 160 neuroinvasive cases of West Nile virus, down from 2002’s high of 204 cases. This year, 14 cases were reported in Ouachita Parish; Lafayette, 9; Rapides, 4; Caldwell, 3; and one each in Acadia, Calcasieu, Livingston and St. Tammany.
Dr. Raoult Ratard, the state epidemiologist, recommends that people going outside for any length of time use a mosquito repellent containing DEET, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, and avoid perfumes and colognes. People should also dispose of anything that might collect water and routinely check and clean roof gutters to keep them from serving as mosquito breeding grounds.
Jindal reworks Medicaid contract selection process 
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is enlisting outside professional help and revamping the selection process to choose the next company to take over its Medicaid claims processing work, a contract worth millions to the winning firm.
The added monitoring steps come after the last contract was scrapped, a criminal investigation was launched into its award and Jindal’s former health care secretary Bruce Greenstein resigned.
“We are strengthening the oversight and management of the whole process, and again we’re doing that to ensure fairness,” said Ruth Johnson, the Division of Administration’s hand-picked adviser to oversee the reworked contract selection process.
She estimated it will be at least 12 to 18 months before the state hires a new claims processor for the more than $7 billion government-run insurance program for the poor, elderly and disabled.
Company will study toll road 
GONZALES  (AP) — Ascension and Livingston parish leaders have agreed to allow a Los Angeles company to study the economic feasibility of a privately owned 2-mile elevated toll road linking the parishes.
American Transportation Partners would have two years to study the proposed private road tying La. 933 at La. 42 in Ascension with La. 16 in Livingston, according to the agreement.
The toll road would be built just upstream of the La. 42 bridge crossing the Amite River near Port Vincent.
Under the deal, if American Transportation Partners finds the project is feasible, the company would enter into a public-private partnership to design, build, pay for and own the new road.
The company also would set the tolls independently, parish officials said.
Bus shelters to be built 
THIBODAUX  (AP) — Good Earth Transit plans to build illuminated bus shelters throughout Thibodaux in an $85,000 project
Thibodaux Public Transit Administrator Wendell Voisin said the money is part of a two-year effort to improve bus stops across the local routes.
The transit system, which serves Houma and Thibodaux, already has installed benches and shelters at stops on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Main Street and Park Avenue in Houma.
Officials try to build shelters near high traffic bus stops but often run into trouble getting permits, Voisin said. Many roads in the area are state highways, and state officials discourage bus shelters so close to roads with high speed limits.
The construction timeline for the Thibodaux shelters remains in flux, pending permit approval, said Ryan Perque, administrative assistant for Thibodaux Mayor Tommy Eschete.
The city hopes to install 12 shelters with the money.
Nature path nearly ready 
LOCKPORT (AP) — A nature path aimed at highlighting the features of the Louisiana cypress swamp could open before Christmas.
The 400-foot walkway off La. 308 in north Lockport curves around old, large trees in the cypress swamp where hikers will even get to see an old truck that’s underwater and surrounded by vegetation.
Lafourche Parish project manager Terry Arabie said the truck is one of his favorite focal points along the trail.
“The truck has been there for a while. How it got there, I don’t know. Somebody may have come down go here in the 1800s and forgot about it, or it may have been dumped in the swamp,” Arabie said, laughing.
Lafourche revenue increases  
THIBODAUX  (AP) — With revenues up more than 17 percent over the first nine months of 2013, Lafourche Parish is proposing raises for its employees and spending 9.4 percent more in the new budget year.
The $68 million operations and maintenance budget also includes $9.3 million for construction projects.
The budget has already come under fire from the Parish Council, which will vote to approve it next month. Some members are upset about the pay raises and elimination of the legislative audit office.
The council will hold public budget hearings Nov. 12 and 13 before voting on the spending plan at its Nov. 26 meeting.
Counsel: No cause to investigate superintendent 
LAFAYETTE  (AP) — The assistant district attorney representing the Lafayette Parish School Board has advised the Attorney General’s Office that the board has no cause to hire special counsel to investigate Superintendent Pat Cooper.
The School Board had approved in July a resolution seeking special counsel to investigate Cooper over the March 2012 hiring of Thad Welch as a special assistant to the superintendent for facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation.
Some board members claimed Cooper violated board policy and should be reprimanded because he recommended Welch for the job knowing that Welch did not have the high school education required for the job.
Cooper said he’ll ask the board to rescind its resolution requesting special counsel and rescind its decision to reprimand him.
Coroner wants tougher sentences for heroin dealers 
BATON ROUGE  (AP) — The coroner of East Baton Rouge Parish is asking lawmakers to drastically increase prison sentences for people convicted of distributing the highly addictive drug. The move comes after a recent surge of heroin overdoses in south Louisiana
Dr. Beau Clark has drafted a tentative proposal to raise the mandatory minimum sentence for dealing heroin to 30 years, a push he described as a compromise between the life sentences once in place and the five-year minimum on the books.
Clark, who has become increasingly outspoken on public health matters, is among a growing chorus of local authorities who blame the resurgence of heroin on a 2001 law that jettisoned life sentences for heroin distributors.
From The Associated Press.

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