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Group: Keep Guard in N.O.
Crime-weary New Orleans residents and business owners who want Gov. Bobby Jindal to delay withdrawing 300 Louisiana National Guard troops — scheduled to begin in June — are circulating an online petition (www.thepetitionsite.com/petition/680554178), according to petition organizer Ariane Wiltse, a member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (www.helpholycross.org) and an occasional contributor to Gambit Weekly. "We also have copies that I have been giving to residents and churches," says Wiltse. The group wants Jindal to keep Guard troops in the city until violent crime rates fall, NOPD restaffs and rebuilds police substations in storm-affected areas, and NOPD's strength returns to pre-storm levels. NOPD had a high of 1,741 cops in 2005, compared to 1,472 last week. Police Chief Warren Riley, who in 2006 asked then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco to deploy the Guard (and 55 State Police) to help NOPD, said recently that the "phase-out" of Guard troops would begin with the departure of a "small contingent" at the end of June. "At this point, by the end of September, the Guard will probably be gone," Riley told an April 18 news conference. State Police withdrew earlier this year. Local crime usually increases during the hot summer months. — Johnson

 

New Cops, New Thugs
Addressing the first New Orleans Police Academy class to graduate since the murder of Officer Nicola Cotton three months ago, NOPD Deputy Chief Anthony Cannatella told 30 new officers they would face a "new type of criminal" on the city's streets. Cannatella, a 41-year veteran of the NOPD, said the freshly minted cops would encounter offenders who were "more violent and more dangerous" than those ever encountered by most of NOPD's senior commanders during their own patrols. Police Chief Warren Riley later said Recruit Class No. 160 received "much more" training in self-defense than previous classes as well as "take-down tactics" and instruction in the use of Mace, Tasers and police batons. "They have always fought in the academy, it's just more intense, and they fight on a more regular basis," Riley says. New Officer Stephanie Horak, 24, a native of Nebraska, joined NOPD after four post-Katrina trips here as a Christian relief organizer. "I learned a lot from the defensive tactics," says Horak, the top academic graduate who also holds a bachelor's degree in criminology from Missouri State University. Horak's first assignment is the tough Sixth Police District — where Cotton worked when she was shot to death with her own gun by a mental patient on Jan. 28. — Johnson

 

New 2008 Tax Returns?
As painful as it might be for some, filing your state income tax return could soon take on a sense of purpose — if lawmakers approve a special check-off box for coastal restoration donations. You already have the option, when filling out your individual income tax return, to donate all or part of your refund to military families, scholarship funds, animal-related programs, cancer trusts, housing initiatives and community-based health-care funds. Senate Bill 697 would create another check-off box for contributions to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, which is used to bankroll a variety of projects ranging from freshwater diversions to barrier island maintenance. While it's difficult to estimate how much support taxpayers might put into the fund, it would be required by law to bring in at least $10,000 annually over a two-year period to remain on tax forms. Otherwise, it would be taken off. As for costs to the Louisiana Department of Revenue, it's allowed by the legislation to take as much as 20 percent of all donations to put toward data processing, accounting and other functions. If passed, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2009 — just in time for your 2008 tax returns. — Alford

 

Question of the Week
"How many kids will we be able to put to work with this bill, and will it finally make us competitive with Indonesia?" That was the politically incorrect query from Rep. Walt Leger, III, D-New Orleans, who satirically asked about legislation that would allow parents to employ their 12-year-old children in the family business. Under current Louisiana law, the minimum age at which a minor can be gainfully employed is 14. Federal laws, which the proposed bill mirrors, permit a 12-year-old to work in his or her parents' business under certain circumstances. — Alford

 

Movie Tax Credits Vetted
The Louisiana Entertainment Industries Association, a trade group representing everyone from studio heads and producers to actors and grips, wants the state to put reasonable limits on the industry's much-ballyhooed tax incentives — but not solely at the expense of producers. Louisiana Economic Development scheduled a public hearing on the production and infrastructure tax incentives to get input on proposed changes to the program. LEIA leaders say they oppose any effort to force producers to make all related expenditures prior to the end of 2008 to qualify for the infrastructure credits. The group also wants to make sure that hotel rooms do not qualify for the infrastructure tax credit. (Former state Rep. Gary Beard, R-Baton Rouge, was criticized last year for seeking millions in tax credits for a production studio project that included a $115 million hotel and a $128 million condo development.) LEIA also opposes any move to make applicants pay for the cost of additional audits once the tax incentives are granted. More than anything else, the group says it's time for clear guidelines so that the state as well as producers know what to expect. — Alford

 

10 Elected Officials Fined
The Louisiana Board of Ethics let stand fines against 10 elected officials for late filings of campaign reports — despite waiver requests in nine of those cases. Among area officials, the state board refused to waive a $600 fine against Jefferson Parish School Board member Karen Barnes for a 2002 campaign report filed 12 days late. The board also declined to waive a $40 fine against Harahan City Council member Cindy Murray, whose 2006 campaign filed a report one day late. Tangipahoa Parish Council District 6 member Ronald Bankston, whose 2007 campaign filed a report 78 days late, saw his fine drop from $400 to $160 after the board acknowledged notification "issues." But the panel declined to waive a $400 fine against Plaquemines Parish Councilmember Brent Chauvin. Of the 10 cases, only Hammond Mayor Mason Foster did not seek a waiver. He owes $400 for a 1998 campaign report filed 10 days late. — Johnson

 

Oversight of Prosthetic Purchases Sought
A Terrebonne lawmaker contends prosthetic products are being sold by unsavory characters across Louisiana, sometimes from the back of a truck, which is why he wants the state to buy only from accredited facilities. Hundreds of companies and health-care providers sell prosthetics or offer orthotic services in Louisiana, and some are acting fraudulently, says Rep. Damon Baldone, D-Houma. Four dozen unaccredited Florida medical equipment suppliers were busted several years ago for allegedly billing Medicare for 21,000 artificial limbs that were neither medically necessary nor provided to Medicare beneficiaries. The cost to taxpayers was estimated at about $122 million. Now it's happening in Louisiana, Baldone says, often at the hands of out-of-state, fly-by-night companies. He says his House Bill 799 would end the abuse by imposing $2,500 penalties and forcing unaccredited companies to reimburse the state for illicit sales. The House passed Baldone's measure unanimously. Health-care issues involving prosthetics have become a hot issue this year. The House recently passed House Bill 318 by Rep. Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, calling for insurance companies to cover the costs of purchasing and servicing artificial limbs. Kleckley's measure sets a maximum cost of $50,000 per limb. It is opposed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which contends the measure is a government mandate for health insurance companies. — Alford

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