2017 saw significant ‘firsts’ in Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Monuments to the Confederate era disappear. New Orleans elects its first female mayor ever. A popular congressman is nearly murdered. Baton Rouge scientists help make a major discovery. Here is a look at those and other top stories in Louisiana for 2017, as selected by The Associated Press:
— LANDMARKS REMOVED — Century-old landmarks, three honoring Confederate leaders and one heralding white supremacy, disappeared from New Orleans’ landscape. Proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu and approved by the City Council, the removals sparked two years of emotional debates, state and federal court battles and tense confrontations at monument sites. A statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote.
— ECONOMY BRIGHTENS BUT BUDGET BATTLES LOOM — Lawmakers failed to pass a budget during a regular session for the first time since 2000. That forced lawmakers into a special session to cobble together a deal on a more than $28 billion spending plan. The plan will keep most agencies free of cuts and fully fund the TOPS free college tuition program. More than 38,000 state workers will get 2 percent pay raises, and dollars will be allocated for a new juvenile prison facility that had been vacant to finally open in Acadiana.
—CRIMINAL JUSTICE OVERHAUL — The early release of roughly 1,900 inmates in October resulted from a new package of laws overhauling the state’s criminal justice system. The inmate releases are among the changes in 10 laws that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed in June. The measures are projected to reduce the state’s prison population by up to 10 percent over 10 years.
— NEW ORLEANS MAYOR — The city elected its first female mayor in November. City Council member LaToya Cantrell won 60 percent of the vote and will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. But a pall hangs over the incoming administration as an investigation looms into Cantrell’s use of a city credit card.
— COSMIC CRASH — Astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in Baton Rouge and Washington state discovered the crash of two neutron stars —collapsed cores of a large star and the smallest, densest stars known to exist. The crash happened 130 million years ago, while dinosaurs still roamed Earth, but the signal didn’t arrive on Earth until Aug. 17 after traveling 130 million light-years. Measurements of the light and other energy emanating from the crash have helped scientists explain how planet-killing gamma ray bursts are born and where heavy elements like platinum and gold come from.
— SCALISE SHOT — Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise is back at work after a gunman sprayed fire at a baseball practice and left the lawmaker clinging to life. The 51-year-old Republican and four others were wounded in the June 14 shooting in Alexandria, Virginia, where members of the GOP were practicing for their annual face off against Democratic lawmakers. The shooter, James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois, was killed by two Capitol Hill police officers.
— ALTON STERLING — The U.S. Justice Department has ruled out federal criminal charges against the two white officers who struggled with Alton Sterling before his July 5, 2016, shooting. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is still reviewing evidence to determine whether any state criminal charges are warranted. A white Baton Rouge police officer shot and killed the 37-year-old Sterling outside a convenience store where he was selling homemade CDs. Two cellphone videos of the shooting quickly spread on social media, sparking nightly protests in Louisiana’s capital city.
— BOY KILLED-MARSHALS CONVICTED — A former Louisiana law enforcement officer was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison in the shooting death of a 6-year-old autistic boy after a car chase with the boy’s father. Norris Greenhouse Jr. also pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office in a deal that allowed him to avoid trial. A second former officer, Derrick Stafford, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Greenhouse and Stafford were moonlighting as deputy city marshals in Marksville at the time of the November 2015 shooting.
— FRATERNITY HOUSE DEATH — Ten people were arrested on misdemeanor hazing charges in the death of a Louisiana State University fraternity pledge whose blood-alcohol content was more than six times the legal limit for driving. One of the 10 also faces a felony negligent homicide charge in the death of 18-year-old Maxwell Gruver, a freshman from Roswell, Georgia, who was trying to join Phi Delta Theta.
— FATS DOMINO — One of Rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers, Fats Domino, died of natural causes this year. He was 89. Domino sold more than 110 million records, with hits including “Blueberry Hill,” ″Ain’t That a Shame” — originally titled “Ain’t It A Shame” — and other standards. Domino’s dynamic performance style and warm vocals drew crowds for five decades. One of his show-stopping stunts was playing the piano while standing, throwing his body against it with the beat of the music and bumping the grand piano across the stage.