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Budget stability, clergy abuse top Louisiana stories of 2018

December 29, 2018
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FILE - In this May 7, 2018, file photo, newly sworn in New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell acknowledges the crowd at her inauguration in New Orleans. This was one of the top stories in Louisiana in 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As 2018 comes to an end, Louisiana finally could be close to budget stability and the state has dropped from its spot as the nation’s top jailer. In addition, New Orleans saw its first woman mayor sworn into office and celebrated 300 years of existence.

Those were some of the top 10 stories of the year. Also this year, the #MeToo movement snared former Secretary of State Tom Schedler, and a Louisiana teacher was handcuffed and briefly jailed after asking about teacher pay during a school board meeting.

A look at the top 10 stories of 2018:

BUDGET STABILITY

After a decade of upheaval, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Legislature this year came up with a seven-year tax deal that might finally offer budget stability in Louisiana. The 0.45 percent sales tax approved in a special session will expire in mid-2025. It was a partial renewal of an expiring, temporary 1 percent sales tax. Several sales tax breaks for people and companies also will be scaled back during the period.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Louisiana drops from its spot as the nation’s top jailer after criminal sentencing law changes passed in 2017 took hold. The changes expanded probation and parole opportunities and reduced sentences, mainly for nonviolent offenders. Oklahoma now has the country’s highest incarceration rate. Voters also approved a move to require unanimous juries, rejecting a decades-old law that allowed people to be sent to prison by 11-1 or 10-2 verdicts.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Secretary of State Tom Schedler resigned in May amid a sexual harassment scandal, the highest official in Louisiana to be felled since the #MeToo movement began. A lawsuit filed in February alleged Schedler harassed a female employee for years and punished her when she rebuffed advances. Schedler has maintained the pair had a consensual sexual relationship. The woman’s lawyer denied that. Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Schedler’s top aide moved into the job and then won a special election to fill the remaining year of Schedler’s term.

TEACHER HANDCUFFED

A Louisiana teacher was handcuffed and briefly jailed after asking about teacher pay during a school board meeting in January. The board president had ruled Deyshia Hargrave out of order, saying the public comment period was for comments, not questions. Hargrave’s removal from the board meeting and rough, video-recorded arrest sparked outrage. Hargrave was speaking out against giving the superintendent a $30,000 raise when teachers had gone years without a salary increase.

NEW ORLEANS FIRST FEMALE MAYOR

New Orleans welcomed its first female mayor since the city was founded 300 years ago. LaToya Cantrell was sworn into office May 7, succeeding term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu. She was elected in November 2017. Cantrell was previously a member of the City Council.

300TH ANNIVERSARY

Throughout the year, New Orleans celebrated its 300th anniversary. Highlights of the celebration included visits of old style, tall-mast sailing ships and a visit by King Felipe the VI and Queen Letizia of Spain. Other tri-centennial events included the Prospect.4 art exhibition; the Krewe of Rex Mardi Gras procession themed on New Orleans’ history and a New Orleans Museum of Art exhibition showcasing the Duke of Orleans’ collection.

CLERGY ABUSE-LOUISIANA

The Archdiocese of New Orleans in November released a list of 57 priests and other clergy who it says faced credible child sex abuse allegations — the first such list to be released in Louisiana. The archdiocese says those under its control have been removed from the clergy or are dead. Elsewhere in the country, authorities in at least a dozen states have opened investigations, and federal prosecutors have launched a statewide probe in Pennsylvania.

VOTING MACHINE CONTRACT

Louisiana’s plan to replace 10,000 voting machines and upgrade voting security stalled . The governor’s administration voided a deal with Dominion Voting Systems in October, after the state’s chief procurement officer said the secretary of state’s office mishandled the bid process. Dominion disagreed but decided not to dispute the matter in court. New voting machines aren’t expected to be in place by the 2019 election.

ENTERGY NEW ORLEANS

Amid an intense debate over the construction of a new power plant in New Orleans, the utility giant Entergy says some people who appeared at City Council meetings to support the plant were paid to do so. Entergy said a subcontractor recruited and compensated them and Entergy did not authorize the payments or know about them until it investigated allegations that paid actors were among supporters at some public meetings. A City Council investigation determined Entergy “knew or should have known” about the paid plant supporters. The City Council approved the power station.

TOM BENSON DEATH

The longtime owner of the New Orleans Saints died in March at age 90. After an acrimonious family split over control of Benson’s fortune, his third wife, Gayle, inherited complete control of the Saints and Pelicans, which Benson bought in 2012. Under Benson’s ownership, the NFL team achieved its first winning seasons and a Super Bowl championship.

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