As the selected recipient of this years’ Louisiana Legislative Charity Fund dedication, State Representative Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, has chosen Russell Lane Circle basketball court in Glynn, Louisiana to be refurbished and restored.
Each year a participant in the Louisiana Legislature’s Annual HoopLA charity basketball game is randomly chosen to receive funds for the restoration of a court in his or her district. Funds from the charity basketball game coupled with contributions from the New Orleans Pelicans provide for the court’s makeover.
Last Friday, April 7, Rep. Thibaut, with members of the New Orleans Pelicans, held a ribbon cutting for the Russell Lane Circle Court Dedication, where basketball players from Rougon Elementary School participated in the ceremony and a free basketball clinic. In addition to the clinic, the event included appearances by Pierre the Pelican, the Pelicans Dance team, and each student received tickets to a Pelican’s game.
Rep Thibaut said, “We are appreciative of the funds provided by the New Orleans Pelicans and the Louisiana Legislature to restore a much needed community park in our area. This is the third court we have restored in Pointe Coupee, and each has provided a safe and enjoyable area for so many kids. Having this Charity fund in place for the specific purpose of restoring courts around the state allows us to treat our young residents without the use of tax payer dollars and keep our commitment to help our communities thrive.”
By Mike Hasten
House Communications Specialist
The Tax Foundation, a national think tank that assesses states’ tax policies, has presented one of its 12 Outstanding Achievement in State Tax Reform awards to Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, for her efforts to untangle Louisiana’s sales tax code in 2016.
In presenting the award, Nicole Kaeding, an economist with the Center for State Tax Policy at the Tax Foundation, said Stokes has “done yeoman’s work” trying to reform “the most incredibly complex and convoluted sales tax base” in the country. Added to that, it’s the highest combined local and state sales tax among all states and “there are multiple state and local tax bases.”
“Rep. Stokes has worked to reform taxes to make them simpler, more neutral, more transparent, more stable, and pro-growth,” Kaeding said. “We are grateful to her for her commitment to creating better tax policy for Louisiana taxpayers.”
“It is an honor to be recognized for the steps that have been made toward simplifying Louisiana’s complicated tax policy,” Stokes said at the award presentation. “We still have a long way to go, and reform is necessary to create an economic environment for our state that is stable, competitive and allows our families, business and students to flourish. We have to act now and replace our current fiscal dialogue with accurate, objective information and truth, instead of spin.”
Besides analyzing and ranking tax policies, the Tax Foundation advises states on ways to improve practices to be fairer to those paying taxes and to attract businesses.
“We’re ranked first in the worst in having the highest tax rate,” Stokes said. “We’re one of only three states that has what’s called a ‘disuniform base,’ which means there are different things taxed everywhere. And we’re one of only three states that has uncentralized collection, so we have truly set ourselves apart in a class that we really don’t want to be in.
“I’m very hopeful, going into this session, that we can make some moves to improve that,” she said. “It desperately needs us to improve it… There’s a lot to fix.”
Kaeding said “Louisiana’s budget is in dire straits,” largely because of its convoluted tax code. “The state tax code, in particular, needs a complete and comprehensive overhaul.”
Stokes said the tax code is a major contributor to budget problems and “we absolutely have to end this perpetual discussion of these deficits. We have sent a very inconsistent message to business, individuals, students – everybody out there who’s trying to live here in Louisiana – that you don’t know where the axe is going to fall next. We need to stabilize our revenues, we need to make our expenses as efficient as humanly possible and we need to get over this chapter in Louisiana’s history.”
By Mike Hasten
House Communications Specialist
Two of the three vacancies in the House of Representatives were filled in the March 25 election but the third slot won’t be filled until votes are cast in an April 29 run-off election.
A majority of voters in House District 42 selected political newcomer John Stefanski, a Republican from Crowley, to represent them in the House. He will fill the remaining term of former Rep. Jack Montoucet, a Democrat, who resigned to become secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration.
“I was told by several people I didn’t have a chance, so I had to fight for it,” Stefanski said. He got 54 percent of the vote against a single challenger.
A super majority of voters in District 92 chose former Kenner Councilman Joe Stagni to be their state representative, giving him 74 percent of the vote in a three-candidate race. He fills out the remainder of the term of former Rep. Thomas Willmott, R-Kenner, who resigned after he was elected to the Kenner City Council.
Voters in House District 8 will decide April 29 between Republicans Raymond Crews and Robert Hal “Robbie” Gatti Jr. to replace former Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, who was elected to the U.S. House.
Stefanski, 32, is single. He earned his law degree at Loyola in 2010 and now practices law in what he calls a true “family law practice.” The general practice firm consists of himself, his father, an uncle and two first cousins. One of the attorneys in the six-lawyer firm is not related, but is a long-time business partner and friend of the family.
Edwards, Stefanski and Zaunbrecher, LLC, was founded in 1949 by former Gov. Edwin Edwards when he came to Crowley to open his first law office. There’s no Edwards in the firm now, but they keep his name on the sign “out of respect to the senior law partner.” Nolan Edwards, the former governor’s brother, was shot dead in the office by a disgruntled client who also killed himself in 1983.
Hunting and offshore fishing are Stefanski’s primary hobbies. He also handles some indigent defender cases and volunteers to coach basketball.
His interest in basketball caught the attention of Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who leads the House’s participation in the annual Hoopla charitable fundraising game against the Senate. “Rep. Schroder did not waste any time contacting me. His secretary texted me right after the election,” Stefanski said.
“I never played any meaningful basketball. I just coach the 6th grade boys team at my former elementary school.”
Stagni, 53, is a chiropractic physician. He is married to the former Denise Contavasprie and the couple has two children, Joseph Jr., an 18-year old college student, and Andrew, a 15-year-old 10th grader.
“People think I’m crazy for doing this now, considering the state’s financial problems,” he said. “And I ran for the Council in Kenner post-Katrina. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Stagni served on the Kenner Council from 2006 until 2014, when he was forced to leave because of term limits.
“Hard work pays off,” he said when asked about his overwhelming victory. “I’m looking forward to getting up there and trying to help.”
Stagni also could be one of Schroder’s recruits.
“I am a former All-State basketball player from John Curtis Christian School,” he said, “so I love watching basketball with my boys. My family and I especially love watching my youngest son play basketball for John Curtis.”
Both new representatives will take oaths of office when the House convenes in regular session April 10.
By Mike Hasten
House Communications Specialist
Every year, thousands of students in every school grade level come to the State Capitol from across the state, many of them wide-eyed at the height of the structure and its cavernous rooms on the first floor.
Many of them visit the Capitol after hearing from their legislators about the structure of state government and the jobs they do.
Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Rep. Stephen Pugh, R-Ponchatoula, two of the House members who visit schools, say they often get a lot from their visits to classrooms.
Schexnayder, who is serving his second term representing District 81, said he first visited a school five years ago to talk to students. He said he quickly realized that schools aren’t always teaching much about the state.
Students had little or no knowledge about how the Legislature works, who the governor was, what is the state tree, bird or flower, and other things he believes they should know by the time they are in upper elementary or middle school.
“I took it upon myself to go to four or five schools after I talked to teachers about their concerns,” he said. “When I was in school, I learned it. Five years later,” when he returned to speak to the same students now in higher grades, “these kids know these things.”
The most troubling thing, though, is “The only question they got wrong is ‘Who is your state representative?’”
Pugh, currently serving his third and final term in the House representing District 73, is regularly seen giving tours of the first floor of the Capitol, which houses the huge Memorial Hall (sometimes called The Rotunda), the House and Senate chambers and probably the most asked-about site, where Huey Long was shot.
He said that when he speaks to classes, he invites the students and their parents to come to the Capitol. Entire classes and students with their families often take him up on his offer.
Lance Sullivan, one of the people manning the Capitol information and tour desk, says between 250 and 300 school and summer camp groups tour the building each year. Most come during the months that the Legislature is in session and during Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Pugh said he tries to grant a personal tour to his constituents who ask, even during sessions when he’s the busiest. “I figure if they voted for me, it’s the least I can I do.” Sometimes, though, he has to pass the duty to the information desk if he has a bill being considered or has an important committee meeting.
“The groups that come for tours are usually fourth-grade classes,” he said. “When I go to schools, I speak to Social Studies and American History classes in junior high or high schools. They keep inviting me back every year.”
Make that almost every year, he said. “When I voted for teachers to be evaluated, they didn’t call me that year.”
Pugh said Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger has labeled him “the Ambassador of the House” because “If someone is looking around like they are bewildered, I give them a tour. I get thank-you notes from people around the country and all around the world.”
Both lawmakers said the questions asked by students are enlightening.
“The craziest question came right after I talked about Gov. Jimmie Davis and his horse,” Pugh said. “A kid raised his hand and asked me where Hitler’s horse was buried.” He researched and found that Nordlicht (North Light), believed to have been Hitler’s horse, is buried in on the grounds of LaBranche Plantation in St. Rose.
“I also was asked if I knew Huey Long. I’ve got to get some dye for my hair,” he said. “Another popular question is ‘Where is the pencil?’” referring to a splinter of wood in the Senate ceiling left from when a bomb exploded in 1970, destroying much of the chamber. Tour guides for years called it a pencil.
Schexnayder also invites his constituents to the Capitol. “Parents approach me in stores and I tell them to come to the Capitol and bring your family.” He said it’s important for people to learn the things legislators do.
“One of the biggest questions I’ve gotten from a student is ‘Who owns the State Capitol?’ It shocked a lot of them when I said ‘You do.’ They don’t realize it belongs to the people.”
“My biggest enjoyment is when I walk into the room and the kids have a puzzled look on their faces,” Schexnayder said. “I explain what we do and I like to see their expressions change when they’re interacting with me.”
He includes a short example of how the Legislature works by asking the students to suggest non-serious legislation. One was whether you should have chocolate for breakfast every day. He then presents both sides of the issue and the students see how laws come about.
"I've always believed that our young people who are willing to take a chance can become leaders of whatever they do," he said.
by Nancy Johnson
House Communications Office
The month of January is widely regarded as a month for new beginnings, for making resolutions and for organizing our possessions. If you have a container at home that has accumulated old coins or someone has left you coins in their will, this may be the time to do something about it. But what do you do with a bucket of old coins? Luckily for us, we have a rare coin expert in the House, state Rep. Paul Hollis, and he has some good, simple advice. His recommendation for anyone who finds themselves inheriting coins is to catalog your collection and then get several appraisals from coin dealers in your area.
Rep. Hollis, a native of Metairie, learned much from his father, former state Sen. Ken Hollis, who served in the state Senate for 28 years. Hollis so admired his father’s leadership and legacy of public service, he followed his father’s example at an early age and ran for and was elected Student Body President of Grace King High School. During high school, Hollis earned a second degree black belt in Karate and taught Karate for a local fitness center before his senior year. While a student at LSU, Hollis opened and taught at his own karate school. After graduating from LSU with a degree in Political Science, he began to work for Blanchard and Company, one of the nation's largest collectible coin and precious metals firms located in New Orleans.
Although Blanchard’s was his first professional venture into coin collecting, it was a natural choice for Hollis who has held a lifelong passion for researching and collecting rare and old coins. As a child, he cut neighborhood lawns to earn money to buy old coins. Although he has traded individual coins that are worth millions of dollars, he owns a particular coin whose history is both priceless and one of his earliest childhood memories.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said, when fondly recollecting that moment back in 1978 when he was just six years old and his grandmother gave him his first coin. Hollis' grandmother had saved the coin from the Great Depression. Hollis said he marveled at the coin and the history it encapsulated.
"I was intrigued because it was a tangible link to history," he said. Although his grandmother passed away many years ago, he maintains it is as his single greatest treasure and one that he carries with him to every major event in his life as a tribute to her memory.
Hollis was hired as Blanchard's youngest salesperson and he sold coins and precious metals for Blanchard’s until 2001 when he earned the position of "numismatist" or coin expert. In 2003, Hollis had the opportunity to start his own firm supplying collectible coins to television home shopping networks located in Tennessee and Minnesota. Paul Hollis Rare Coins was started in May, 2003, but Hollis continued to study and hone his numismatic skills even as he launched his own firm.
Hollis is a thorough researcher and he has visited all of the nation's current and former mints where he has extensively researched Louisiana’s coinage. Hollis once had the opportunity to join with the Odyssey Marine Exploration Group aboard the Odyssey Explorer to recover gold coins that were lost as sea during a hurricane in 1865.
In 2008, he arranged for the exhibit of the rarest coin ever produced in Louisiana, an 1844 New Orleans struck gold coin - one that is worth millions. What made the exhibit so exciting was that the coin would be exhibited at the precise location where it was struck back in 1844 - at the Old New Orleans Mint. Hollis transported the unique coin himself with the help of armed security to the New Orleans Mint where it was a featured exhibit. More than 20,000 people had the opportunity to view the coin at its first-ever public display.
Having a strong desire to share the hobby with as many people as possible, Hollis has literally given away tons of coins in his career. In 2009, he gave away one million freshly minted Lincoln cents to celebrate the Bicentennial of President Lincoln. He has mailed thousands of coins to young collectors across the country along with informative brochures to give the historical perspective on the coins he gives away. Also in 2009, Hollis acknowledged his former teacher at Adams Jr. High School in Metairie who was awarded "Louisiana's Principal of the Year," by giving her entire student body of 1,000 students a specially-packaged dollar coin that featured their school's namesake "John Quincy Adams."
In 2011, Hollis was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives. He campaigned for the seat as a small businessman, someone who was very familiar with the problems small businessmen face, and he offered his desire to serve the public by sighting his life experiences, his father's legacy and the will to make a positive impact on people's lives.
As a member of the Louisiana Bicentennial Task Force, Hollis assisted with an exhibit at the Old State Capitol and the writing and production of the "History of Banking and Finance in Louisiana" in cooperation with the secretary of state's office. The following year, he published his first book titled "American Numismatist" that went on to receive the Numismatic Literary Guild's "Best U.S. Coin Book 2012" award.
Rep. Hollis is a Life Member of the American Numismatic Association and is pleased that the organization of more than 25,000 members will be hosting its annual convention in New Orleans at the Morial Convention Center in May. He is also a Board Member of the Industry Council for Tangible Assets and is a member of the newly formed Gulf Coast Legislative Council. Hollis additionally serves as a member of the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family.
Hollis, his wife Ashley and their two children Bree and Zachary moved to St. Tammany Parish after losing their home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The House of Representatives has two relatively new House members and in a couple months will have three more.
Rep. Joseph “Joe” Marino III, I-Gretna, was elected to fill a vacancy in House District 85 created when former Rep. Bryan Adams, R-Gretna, left to join the state fire marshal’s office. Marino had no opposition when he qualified for a July 22 special election. He took the oath of office to become a House member on July 14.
Rep. Paulette “Polly” Thomas, R-Metairie, was also elected without opposition to represent House District 80. No one challenged her qualifying for an election to replace former Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, who resigned the House seat to take a position in Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand’s office. She was sworn in as a House member on August 2.
Marino is an attorney specializing in criminal law and served as a Gretna City Council member from 2013 until his election to the House. He also is a certified instructor for the Kenner, Gretna and Westwego police academies.
He graduated from Louisiana State University with a Journalism degree focused on advertising. He enrolled in the University of South Carolina’s School of Law in 1989 and was elected president of Phi Delta Phi Legal Fraternity. After graduating with a law degree in 1992, Marino returned to Louisiana to begin his law practice. He is a past president of the Jefferson Bar Association and is a member of the Rotary Club.
Marino has been assigned to the Administration of Criminal Justice and Judiciary committees.
Thomas is a retired professor of education at the University of New Orleans and is a former Jefferson Parish School Board member.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in speech pathology and audiology in 1969, an M.S. in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University in1974, and a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M in 1977.
Thomas worked as a speech therapist in Louisiana and Texas, was a special education coordinator and was an educational diagnostician. She taught at Texas A&M University and is recently retired as a Full Professor in the Department of Special Education at UNO. She completed an appointment as Interim Associate Dean of the College of Education at UNO and also served as Assistant Superintendent of Special Education for Louisiana.
She will serve on the House Education Committee.
Thomas ran three unsuccessful campaigns for the Louisiana Senate in 2003, 2007 and a 2008 special election. She led a three-candidate race in the 2008 primary against now-Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, but lost in the run-off election.
Three new House members will be elected later this year. Primary elections are to be held March 25 and run-off elections, if needed, on April 29 to fill three vacant seats: District 8, vacated when Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, was elected to Congress; District 42, vacated when Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Scott, resigned to become Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; and District 92, vacated when Rep. Tom Wilmott, R-Kenner, was elected to the Kenner City Council. The 2017 Regular Legislative Session will convene at noon on Monday, April 10.
By Mike Hasten
House Communications Office
State Rep. Blake Miguez is literally setting his sights on bringing home the gold.
He has been selected to represent the United States in the 2017 International Practical Shooting Confederation Handgun World Shoot in France this August. It’s the shooting sport’s equivalent of the Olympics.
The 35-year-old Republican from Erath earned the gold medal as the world’s best shot with a handgun in 2011 in Rhodes, Greece, and he’s hoping to again claim the title.
“It is an honor to serve on the United States team representing the country that I love in a sport that I have enjoyed doing from a young age,” Miguez said.
Miguez was 12 years old when he entered his first competitive shooting contest and “I did relatively well,” he said. He has been in numerous competitions since then and quickly climbed in rankings. By 17, he earned the rank of Grand Master, the highest ranking in the sport of competitive shooting. He has been Louisiana’s champion pistol shooter each year since the mid-2000s and was on the reality-TV show “Top Shot.” When he won the world title in 2011, he also held the state, regional and national titles.
Miguez is one of a four-man team selected to represent the nation as the Men’s Standard Division Team. Two of his team members are from Georgia and the third is from Missouri.
Competitive shooting has three basic categories – Open, Standard and Production – which Miguez compares to Formula, NASCAR and street racing.
“I do NASCAR,” he said.
Open allows handguns with “dot” sights and other aids, Standard allows handguns with some modifications but not sight aids and Production is “pretty much out of the box.”
More than 1,500 competitors from about 80 countries are expected at the event in Châteauroux, near Paris.
Since he’s not sure of what the competition will include, he’s practicing shooting in several positions – standing, squatting, kneeling and lying on his stomach – as well as shooting on the run. It helps that he has his own shooting range, located in Jeanerette. When Miguez won in 2011, one of his challenges was shooting from a rocking boat.
A .40-caliber pistol is his weapon of choice. It is composed of parts from STI, an employee-owned gun manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Texas, that were assembled at Akai Custom Guns in Sunrise, Fla. The pistol has traditional iron sights and he uses a 19-round clip for international competition. “It is a traditional handgun,” he said. It has no dot sight and no muzzle brakes (which would reduce recoil), so hand strength is crucial.
During competitions, shooters are required to navigate set courses that require dodging around and ducking under obstacles to shoot targets – many of which are moving. They shoot through holes in walls, through windows and doors and often have to start out in unusual positions, like getting up from lying on their backs or getting out of a vehicle before they can retrieve their weapons. Competitors are judged on accuracy, power, and speed.
Miguez is known for being extremely good at all aspects. At a recent meet, he fired two shots in a quarter second with his semi-automatic pistol. He can draw his weapon and hit a target 10 yards away in less than a second. He carries five magazines on his belt, plus one in his gun during competition. A video of him competing shows fluid, split-second magazine changes while moving among targets. To see segments of Miguez’s 2011 World Shoot competition, click here.
Besides competitive shooting all around the world, he likes to deer, duck and dove hunt and fish both saltwater and fresh water, although he says he doesn’t get to enjoy those hobbies as often as he once did. “I have too many jobs and too many hobbies,” he said, laughing. “I used to do 15 matches a year. Now I do about seven.”
He’s competed in many countries around the world and in every state but Alaska and Hawaii.
At the matches, “Safety is paramount,” he said. “There’s never been a death” at a sanctioned event. “I was taught at a young age how to handle a gun safely. You’ve got to act responsibly.” Any action by a competitor that’s deemed unsafe, such as an accidental discharge, fumbling or dropping a weapon, leads to disqualification.
When he’s not involved in other activities, Miguez is working on his real jobs, being a husband and father, taking care of his legislative duties, and being president and CEO of SeaTran Marine LLC, an offshore supply vessel company. He’s also involved in his family’s business, Miguez Fuel & Lubricants. He’s married to Ashley Jolet-Miguez and they have three children, Izabel, 14, Colin, 12, and Julianna, who turned 2 on New Year’s Day.
The Olympic-style opening ceremony for this year’s world competition is set for Aug. 27. Competition runs from August 28 to September 2 with the final Shoot-Off scheduled Sept. 3, the same day as the awards ceremony.
Miguez says he plans to go to Italy a week before the event starts and find a place where he can concentrate on honing his skills. He said he will purchase ammunition locally for that but when it comes to the competition, he will use ammunition hand-loaded by his father, Steve Miguez. “He enjoys doing that.”
“I’ll go with 900 to 1,000 rounds and probably use 600 to 700 rounds” during the competition, he said. He wants to have enough in case there’s a “re-shoot,” sometimes caused by such things as a malfunctioning moving target, or there’s a “shoot-off,” in which all the top shots compete.