By Nancy Johnson
State Rep. James Armes, D-Leesville, recently rode ATVs with wounded veterans known as Road Warriors on the muddy Sabine River trails of East Texas adjoining Louisiana and shared a lasting camaraderie with a group of men he greatly admires and loves. Their weekend of fun and food preceded a cross-country motorcycle trip to raise money and awareness to support the Road Warrior Foundation.
Every year, the Road Warrior Foundation, with the help of corporate sponsor Cam Am BRP, picks ten wounded veterans for an all expense paid ride across the U.S. on custom Cam Am Spyders followed by a support crew of about ten people. Ride therapy is what they like to call it. Every year a different route is chosen.
This year, Sawgie Bottom Outdoor Power Sports of Leesville, the local Cam-Am dealer, sponsored their first stop at the Sabine ATV Park. Sawgie Bottom brought out ten demo ATVs and side by sides for road warriors to ride, and ride they did. This is the fourth year for the event and according to the organizers it was the best stop ever – two days of fun in the mud.
Rep. Armes thanked a crowd of supporters from Sawgie Bottom, the American Legion Riders and Sons of the American Legion Post 145 from Leesville, the Masonic Lodge of Newton, Texas, the Sabine ATV Park and A-1 Communications of Leesville.
Rep. Armes said, “I had the privilege and honor of spending a day riding ATVs and talking with our heroes who had been wounded in the line of duty. I was there representing the governor and the House of Representatives Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs. The sponsors, Sawgie Bottom Sports and Can Am, along with the Jasper VFW and the VFW Riders from Leesville, gave our Road Warriors one of the best times they say they’ve ever had riding ATVs. The Road Warriors enjoyed fried fish on Saturday and shared two smoked hogs with all the trimmings the following Sunday night. On Monday, October 23, they left on their road trip riding special Can Am Spyder motorcycles, which were customized specifically for their needs, and headed toward Greenville, Mississippi, through Georgia, then to South Carolina where they finalized their road trip adventure.”
“When they left on their trip, there weren’t many dry eyes around. As survivors of deadly missions, these warriors sacrificed legs and arms and suffered head trauma and burns --- their bodies are ravaged with bullet wounds,” Armes said.
With the support of corporate partners such as Can Am and individual donors, the Road Warrior Foundation helps veterans recover by driving them to thrive in unfamiliar environments and perform at a level they thought was no longer available to them.
“If you ever see the Road Warriors, I ask that you go out and meet real heroes when they pass through your towns,” Armes said. “Give them recognition and welcome them,” he said.
To learn more about the Road Warrior Foundation, visit the website at www.roadwarrior.org.
By Mike Hasten
State Rep. Walt Leger III, who earned a B.A. degree in political science from Louisiana State University in 2000, has been named the university’s Young Alumnus for 2017.
Leger, the speaker pro tempore in the House, was surprised at a Sept. 26 practice session of the LSU Band when Alumni Association President Cliff Vannoy called him to the director’s podium and presented the award.
As Leger approached the podium, Drum Major Daniel Wendt cued the band to play the LSU Fight Song.
“It’s a little shocking,” he said after the presentation. “I was invited to speak to the band. It’s an incredible honor. It’s a fine institution and I’m proud to be honored by it. It’s a special place and I will fight to keep it getting better and better.”
Vannoy said the association yearly recognizes two members of the alumni for their efforts to promote the university. Leger, who is 39, received the award that goes to an alumnus under age 40.
LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said he was glad Leger was selected because “There is no bigger fan than Walt Leger” and he “carries a big load for us in the Legislature. He’s a guy we can turn to at any moment. He’s there for us.”
Vannoy said LSU alumni are equipped for leadership and “if you look at the leadership of Louisiana, there’s an LSU grad leading the way. Walt Leger is a great example of that. He is an excellent alumnus for LSU.”
Leger said he’s “surrounded by LSU grads – my entire immediate family. And my wife, Danielle, is also a LSU graduate.”
At work, Kim Dodd, senior analyst in his office and the office of Speaker Taylor Barras, also is an alumna and was a Golden Girl.
House Hurricanes: (from left) Chris Keaton, David Marcase, Ben Vincent, Chas Nichols, Dimitri Bush, Zach Rau, Esther Drummond and Lisa Lovello. In front are Brianne Meeks and Desiree Ciccarelli.
By Mike Hasten
The House Hurricanes, the legislative body’s softball team made up of players from different divisions, secured a share of fourth place in this year’s 11-team state agency league.
Chris Keaton, budget director for the House and right fielder in the final playoff game against the DEQ1 team, says he prefers to call it “third-and-a-half place” since the game under the lights on that very warm Sept. 28 night ended in a 5-5 tie after two extra innings.
Counting playoff games, the Hurricanes ended the season 5-5-1.
“We’re perfectly average and we’re good with that,” said Chas Nichols, a House Budget Analyst who coached this year’s team. Playing softball “is office bonding. It’s about all the floors coming together” to have some fun.
The House team has a 23-player roster but since all of them can’t make it to every week-night game in the eight-game season, the line-up varies depending on who shows up.
“The rotation usually plays out where we have somewhere between 9 and 14 players on a given game day,” Nichols said. “It’s like herding cats to get them out there.”
“We try to play one game a week, but we’re often fighting Mother Nature,” he said. “Louisiana is REALLY rainy in the summer time and we end up playing two games some weeks to make up for rainout games. The season started in the beginning of July, to give you some perspective on just how many games have gotten rained out this year.
“Scheduling is really tricky, but everyone universally agrees not to play on weekends,” he said. “It’s much easier to go get people to the game straight from work than to get up and take time out of their weekends.”
For attorney David Marcase, it was a bittersweet final game with the House team. He won’t be back next season, having taken a position in the Louisiana Municipal Association. He pitched the entire game and was involved in a collision at home plate as he tagged out what would have been the winning run for DEQ1.
Besides the House, the Workforce Commission, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Revenue, Board of Regents, Division of Administration, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health and Hospitals, Department of Insurance, and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries fielded teams this season. DEQ had two teams.
Keaton said the league started in 2004 when the House played the Senate. The team adopted the name House Hurricanes and got official shirts. That was before Katrina and Rita hit in 2005, he adds.
“The league then grew into more and more teams,” he said. “There have been years when we had 16 teams. I coached for years and then Stephanie Durand coached for a few and then I took back over as coach. Chas coached last year and this year.”
One of the stalwarts of the team is Esther Drummond of Word Procession in Administrative Services.
“Esther has been a trooper for us,” Keaton said. “She can really hit the ball – better than most guys.” And she plays a mean first base.
“I’ve been hit in the mouth with a ball before, so I know it hurts,” Drummond said between innings. She played church league softball and has been on the House team since it was formed, but she’s considering whether to hang up her uniform for good. “I turn 65 in October. After that, I don’t know.”
The team also has some young players.
Dimitri Bush, Desiree Ciccarelli, Brianna Meeks and Michael Rhorer, all in their twenties, work as messengers for the House. Lindsey Hutson is a student intern and Kaci McCarstle is a legislative page. Bush missed several games after injuring his arm sliding head-first and now says he won’t make that mistake again. Ciccarelli and Meeks said they played softball as children and in high school, so they jumped at the chance to play on the House team.
Ciccarelli belted a line drive into left center field that drove in one of the Hurricanes’ runs.
Nichols says the team is now looking forward to next year’s season with an eye on the title. He considers this year a big success, finishing in the top 4 (or 3-1/2, as Keaton says), even though they did lose one game 22-2.
House Hurricanes roster: Willis Brewer: Fiscal Analyst; Dimitri Bush: Messenger; Desiree Ciccarelli: Messenger; Esther Drummond: Word Processing; Colleen Gill: Fiscal Analyst; Chris Henry: Budget Analyst; Lindsey Hutson: Student Intern; Chris Keaton: Budget Deputy Director; Stephan Louis: Sgt-At-Arms; Lisa Lovello: Library Associate; David Marcase: Attorney; Kaci McCarstle: Legislative Page; Brianne Meeks: Messenger; Drew Murray: Legislative Analyst; Chas Nichols: Budget Analyst (Player/Coach); Zach Rau: Fiscal Analyst; Michael Rhorer: Messenger; Blake Ruiz: Budget Analyst; John Schroder: Former State Representative; Robert Singletary: Attorney; Robin Stalder: Librarian; Ben Vincent: Economist; Daniel Waguespack: Budget Analyst
By Mike Hasten
Rep. James was recently named to the initial group installed into the Law Center’s Legislative Hall of Fame. He is the only active member of the Legislature in the inaugural group.
“Southern University Law Center did more than train me for the legal profession, she prepared me for a purpose,” James said. “The Law Center has a motto, ‘Seriousness of Purpose,’ and we were taught that our purpose was to always advocate for the least of these.
“I am beyond humbled to be recognized by my beloved alma mater; especially honored to share this recognition with Southernites who paved the way for me.”
James passed the bar in 2006 after earning his juris doctorate, but instead of joining a law firm, he joined former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration working on restoring housing for victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He later served as a House attorney drafting legislation and was appointed special counsel in the Louisiana Department of Revenue. After establishing his own law firm, he successfully campaigned for the House District 101 seat in 2012 and won re-election in 2016.
Joining him in the Hall of Fame are: Jody Amedee of Gonzales, who served three terms in the state Senate, 2004-16; Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge, who served in the state Senate 1988-92, in the U.S. House 1992-96, and in the state Senate again 1996-2008; Charles D. Jones of Monroe, who served in the House 1980-92 and the Senate 1992-2006; Johnnie Jones of Baton Rouge, who served in the House 1972-76; and the late Richard “Dick” Turnley, Jr., who was the first African-American House member elected in Baton Rouge since Reconstruction and served in the House 1972-84 and in the Senate 1984-88.
Turnley was one of the top Civil Rights attorneys of his day and one of the 10 founders of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus.
By Mike Hasten
State Rep. Valarie Hodges joined law enforcement, judiciary and mental health officials in August for a seminar on responding to situations involving persons with mental health issues.
““Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the world,” said Hodges, R-Denham Springs. “Our goal should be to train law enforcement officers to more effectively respond to persons with mental illness in order to protect our officers and the offenders, to reduce arrests and get the offenders suffering from mental illness appropriate treatment.”
The conference, titled “One Mind Symposium: A Response to Persons Affected by Mental Illness,” was sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the SAMSHA-Gains Center, and the Capital Region Mental Health Team on Aug. 23 at the Renaissance Hotel in Baton Rouge. More than 100 federal, state, and local law enforcement officers, judicial system representatives, mental health professionals, and elected officials attended.
Hodges joined Gov. John Bel Edwards, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Broome and LaGrange, Ga., Police Chief Louis Dekmar, IAPC’s incoming president, in addressing the group.
Dekmar told the group that when dealing with persons with mental health issues, law enforcement officers “can use calming techniques and then de-escalation techniques, so that instead of taking a situation where an individual is aggravated and agitated, by employing these techniques you're able to de-escalate the situation.”
Segments of the symposium dealt with ways to help people with mental disorders instead of sending them to jail, best practices when dealing with persons with disorders or in crisis situations, and an overview of practices used in East Baton Rouge Parish.
An 8-hour Mental Health First-Aid course was presented Aug. 24.
Hodges said the presentations gave law enforcement and government officials “the opportunity to come together with behavioral health professionals to discuss the best possible ways of handling mental health issues that may arise.
“We could also save millions of dollars by incorporating best practices instead of incarcerating non-violent offenders,” she said. “We should be using our resources to treat the mentally ill and help them become productive members of society again.”
By Mike Hasten
LAKE CHARLES – State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, was named this year’s LegisGator of the Year at the Chamber Southwest’s annual political gathering honoring business-friendly lawmakers.
This was the second time Carter was presented the award in the event’s 12-year history.
The Lake Charles regional chamber of commerce banquet featured speeches from Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s congressional delegation, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who is recovering from being shot by a sniper. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, spoke of his friendship with Scalise.
Four House members – Rep. Mark Abraham, R-Lake Charles, A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, Johnny Guinn, R-Jennings, and Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek – were named Governmental Affairs Reward winners.
State Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, received the 2017 Chairman’s Award and Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, received the 2017 Fusion Up and Coming Award.
State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, has been honored by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce as being selected to the 2017 Top 20-Under 40 group. The Chamber of Commerce, the News-Star, the Northeast Louisiana Young Professionals, Origin Bank and the Thomas and Farr Agency recognized 75 regional young professionals at the Top 20-Under 40 celebration.
“It’s an honor to be recognized in my region for my professional and community work,” said Jackson. "It is my sincere hope that those who are aware of this recognition truly understand that nothing worth being recognized for is possible without following God’s plan."
The nominees and award recipients were recognized at the Sept. 12 function for their outstanding professional and personal accomplishments and for their work in community service. Jackson, an attorney, represents House District 16, which includes parts of Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.
By Mike Hasten
Reentry Benefiting Families is honoring Reps. Joseph Marino, I-Gretna, and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, for their efforts to reform Louisiana’s criminal justice system during this year’s legislative session.
“Rep. Smith and Rep. Marino embody what all citizens hope for in their elected leaders,” said RBF President and CEO Andrew Hundley. “They have advocated for solutions that are smart on crime and their policy work will lead to safer communities and decreased recidivism rate. RBF is excited to honor their contributions to Louisiana’s reentry community and hold them as an example of outstanding leadership.”
RBF, an organization working for criminal justice reform and programs that help inmates succeed when they are released from prison, will honor the lawmakers at its inaugural Spark Plug Gala to be held 6-8 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Governor’s Mansion
Hundley described Smith as “a longtime criminal justice reform advocate who has championed legislation for the reentry community since taking office in 2008. Rep. Smith has been actively working with community organizations that provide reentry services to returning citizens seeking to successfully reintegrate into society post-incarceration. She has consistently lobbied on behalf of important reentry issues such as voting rights and parole opportunities.”
He said “While Rep. Marino is a new member to the state legislature, he was also one of the most influential figures in the passage of the bills that comprised the 2017 Justice Reinvestment Initiative. Because of his experience with criminal law, Rep. Marino was tasked with testifying and debating on behalf the legislation’s advocates. His extensive testimony and guidance was instrumental to these landmark pieces of legislation gaining passage.”
Marino and Smith were instrumental in efforts to update laws that have over the years have resulted in Louisiana locking up a higher percentage of its residents than anywhere in the world.
By Mike Hasten
Rep. Patricia Haynes Smith has been elected to a leadership post in the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women.
“I want to thank the great women of NOBEL Women who so graciously have given me the opportunity to serve the organization as its National 1st Vice President,” she said, following the elections. “Congratulations to all of the newly elected officers.”
Smith has been a member of the organization since 2008. She was elected to the Executive Board as recording secretary in 2013 and 2015.
Elected to the state House of Representatives in 2007, Smith is serving her third and final term representing District 67. She serves on the House Appropriations, Education, and Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs committees and also the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. She is a former teacher and retired from Exxon, where she worked in the Public Relations Department.
NOBEL Women is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization primarily composed of current and former black women legislators, as well as many appointed officials. Originally established in 1985 as a national organization to increase and promote the presence of black women in government, it in recent years has expanded its vision to serve as a global voice to address a myriad of issues affecting the lives of all women.
The group chose its new leadership at its 32nd annual legislative conference held June 28 through July 2 in Nashville. The conference was titled “Building on a Legacy: Leadership, Empowerment, & Engagement.”
Serving with Smith for the 2017-19 term are: Rep. Karen Camper of Tennessee, national president; Rep. Juandalynn Givan of Alabama, 2nd vice president; Rep. Toni Rose of Texas, treasurer; Rep. Raumesh Akbari of Tennessee, financial secretary; Rep. Sandra Scot of Georgia, recording secretary; and Rep. Angela Angel of Maryland, corresponding secretary.
Landry and Leger honored by Childcare Association of Louisiana
By Lauren Russell
Deputy Communications Director
The Childcare Association of Louisiana (CCAL) has given three Representatives special recognition for the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.
State Reps. Nancy Landry and Patricia Smith were named State Representatives of the Year for their support of CCAL’s legislative issues and for their work to benefit children. The organization also named State Representative Walt Leger as its 2017 Champion for Children for his continued leadership in promoting public policies that focus on meaningful investments in early childhood education.
Rep. Landry was recognized for her efforts to ensure the health, welfare and safety of children relative to public policies governing early childhood education. She offered such legislation as House Study Resolution 2, which calls for a study of providing postsecondary education services for current and former foster youth. Additionally, she offered House Bills 575, 569, 568, and 567. While these bills did not successfully pass through the legislature, each attempts to provide for the issues and services affecting education standards and schools in general.
Rep. Smith was recognized as a vocal supporter of funding for early childhood education and as a relentless advocate for the health and welfare of children, supporting legislative issues impacting early childhood education.
One piece of legislation authored by Rep. Leger sought to require BESE to study state laws, policies, and practices relative to student discipline with regard to the discipline of students exposed to violence and other forms of trauma. While HR164 did not successfully pass, it showed support for the wellbeing and welfare of children. Rep. Leger also brought forth HB584, now Act 353, which creates a special fund for the purpose of funding early childhood education in Louisiana. Not only will this law create the Louisiana Early Childhood Education Fund for early childhood education programs, but it also authorizes BESE to award additional funding in accordance with CCAP in the local entity’s jurisdiction, and requires the Department of Education to actively solicit and use resources to fund the CCAP slots. For this effort to secure funding for educational programs Rep. Leger received this prestigious award.
The Childcare Association of Louisiana (CCAL) is a nonprofit organization comprised of licensed early learning centers and individuals engaged in providing high quality early childhood education to Louisiana’s most precious asset, children. It is the only professional membership organization that specifically advocates for the needs of children and the businesses that provide early care and education to nurture their growth and development.
Rep. McFarland shares insurance concerns with VP Pence
By Mike Hasten
State Rep. Jack McFarland, who operates a small high-tech tree harvesting business in north Louisiana, recently got to share with Vice President Mike Pence his concerns about the state of healthcare insurance.
Pence came to Baton Rouge May 24 as part of a fact-finding tour to get information on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses. McFarland, a member of the National Federal of Independent Business, was one of 10 business owners selected to sit around a round table and share their experiences with the vice president.
“When the Vice President called NFIB, he said he wanted to meet with some small businesses,” the lawmaker from Jonesboro said. “When you say ‘small business,’ obviously Cajun Industries, with 4,000 employees, is different from my small business that has 30 employees. So it gave him a good mixture in the room. There were three businesses there that didn’t even have as many employees as I have.”
Pence was interested in input on how the ACA affects business and job creation. He visited several states and, according to McFarland, got the same story everywhere he went: It’s bad for business. The businessmen, sitting at a large round table at Cajun Industries in Port Allen, took turns expressing their concerns about the federal health insurance program.
“This is what he heard from everyone, even the small 15-employee businesses,” McFarland said. “Our premiums have increased. Our benefits have decreased. Our employees are dropping coverage because of rising costs. They’re dropping coverage on their families.
“I gave this example. Insurance used to be a job benefit, a fringe benefit. It was a recruiting tool to attract quality employees and to maintain them. However, because of the Affordable Healthcare Act, it’s no longer a recruitment tool, for sure. Now, it’s almost a hindrance to our employees. I’m seeing fewer employees on our group policy, which means our costs are higher.
“Seema Verma (a Trump administration official) gave an example. She said 20 million employees who were on employer-provided health insurance have lost or given up their health insurance because they can no longer afford it,” he said. “Yet we’ve added 40 million people to health insurance who are not employed. So we took insurance away from 20 million and gave it to 40 million who don’t work at all.
“There’s something wrong with that. There’s something terribly wrong with that.”
McFarland said having uninsured employees is bad for business. “When you’ve got healthy employees, they’re more productive employees. You have less absenteeism. We discussed all of this.”
The high costs have impacted employers, too. “I used to pay 100 percent of it, now I pay 50 percent,” McFarland said.
Pence “is aware that for all of the positive things about giving healthcare to everyone, the problem is that it negatively affected a lot of people, the people who have been paying for it and also paying for others through their taxes.”
Prior to the meeting, McFarland and the other 11 business owners and operators were subjected to stringent background checks performed by Secret Service for anyone who has contact with top federal officials. And he encountered another problem when he got to the meeting place.
“I actually got turned away twice because I had guns in the car and then I had bullets in the car,” McFarland said. “It was quite entertaining but I finally got in.”
Rural Caucus elects LeBas, Bagley, Hill as officers
By Mike Hasten
The Louisiana Rural Caucus has elected Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte to lead the 67-member group of legislators this year.
Joining Chairman LeBas in leadership roles are Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, vice-chairman, and Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, secretary/treasurer.
“We’re the largest membership caucus in the Legislature, representing practically the whole state, outside of metropolitan areas,” LeBas said. “We deal with all kinds of issues, not just those that are agriculture-related.”
As chairman, LeBas appointed seven caucus members to serve with the officers on the Executive Committee: Reps. Andy Anders of Vidalia, John Berthelot of Gonzales, Kenny Cox of Natchitoches, Jerry Gisclair of Larose and Rob Shadoin of Ruston, and Sens. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro and Francis Thompson of Delhi.
LeBas said the officers pledged to serve the constituents of the state and to promote the ideals and objectives of rural Louisiana. Caucus members work to find consensus on common ideas and share solutions that address these issues.
“We all share similar issues in our districts, so it pays to work together to achieve our goals,” he said. “It’s important that we remind legislators who are not from rural areas that we have needs in our districts, too.”
“The Caucus is important in dealing with the problems the rural areas have,” Bagley said. “The rural part of the state is the predominant amount of acreage we have here and we need to protect that acreage for forestry, farming, oil and gas and other uses that are important to those areas and the state. It’s important for the Rural Caucus to watch these things and influence legislative decisions in the right way.”
“Our people in rural areas need better roads and bridges to get produce to market and to get to jobs,” Hill said. “Working together, we can get needed projects. A lot of our people still have their own wells, so we work to preserve water quality. We also are concerned about timber and we help people get health care.”
“It’s a very important caucus for my rural area, the Delta of the state,” Anders said. “We have the biggest road problems. With our membership at 67, it’s important to get the support of the Rural Caucus to pass any legislation that we have.”
“It’s an honor and a pleasure to serve on the executive board with Chairman LeBas,” Berthelot said. “I have a great amount of rural area in my district. I have some cattle farmers and some sugarcane people. I have a lot of available land, so hopefully it will be utilized to its best use.”
“The Rural Caucus is important to me and to the state of Louisiana,” Cox said. “They’ve been instrumental in coming out and helping cities and towns with water and sewer problems.
“Many times, small municipalities like Natchez, South Mansfield and Campti can’t afford to do that because they don’t have a tax base,” he said. “But the Rural caucus gets in and takes care of things. I just glad to be a part of it.”
“It’s important that we focus on the needs of the people outside the metro areas,” Gisclair said. “My big concern is the water quality for these old systems that are beginning to create problems.
“I am not in favor of mega-projects – like a billion-dollar bridge in Baton Rouge or the I-49 billion-dollar boondoggle in Lafayette,” Gisclair said. “I prefer to focus on the rural roads for people who reside away from the metro areas because we need to get from point A to point B in 64 parishes, not just two or three cities. Rural roads and our aging bridges are a concern.”
“It’s important that we serve our rural areas, especially as it deals with agriculture and water issues,” Shadoin said. “Having the Caucus work together gives us a louder voice than it would if we were all working separately. We work together to keep in the forefront those issues that are important to all of us.”
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.