‘It was a terrible experience’: After surviving COVID-19, Louisiana man urges Black community to get vaccinated

Published: May 5, 2021

By: Matthew Bennett | LSU Manship School News Service

“It’s the flu to the 12th power,” remarked Ivory Payne, a Baton Rouge publisher who is urging Black Louisianans to get COVID-19 vaccines.

“I couldn’t breathe,” Payne said, describing his own experience with the virus in early February. “I think the shortness of breath was the worst thing. It was a terrible experience.”

After his doctors told him to go home and quarantine for 14 days, Payne, 60, found that his fight against the respiratory illness had just begun. He said that after a difficult two weeks in isolation, his condition only got worse.

Payne described a litany of troubling COVID-19 symptoms, including not being able to smell or taste, body aches that prevented him from lifting everyday items and nausea. He spent three distressed weeks in the hospital, where he was forced to consider his chances of survival.

Payne is doing better now, but still has some fatigue as he cautiously returns to work as publisher of the BR Weekly Press, a newspaper for the Black community. His takeaway from his experience is the importance of vaccinations.

He wishes he had been eligible for a vaccine before he was hit by the virus, and he wants to urge Black residents to trust in the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I believe the African-American community has been hit the hardest, because of poor health care,” Payne said. “And just lack of education about the vaccine and the illness itself.”

Larry Green (R) receives his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Teresa Frey at Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church UCC on March 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. The Providence health organization pop-up vaccine clinic was held at the predominantly Black church as part of their health equity campaign in communities of color. The current COVID-19 death rate for Black people is 10 percent higher than the state average while the death rate for Latinx people is 21 percent higher.
Larry Green (R) receives his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Teresa Frey at Lincoln Memorial Congregational Church UCC on March, 12, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. The Providence health Organization pop-up vaccine clinic was held at the predominantly Black church as part of their health equity campaign in communities of color. The current COVID_19 death rate for Black people is 10 percent higher than the state average while the death rate for Latinx people is 21 percent higher. Mario Tama, Getty Images

‘Everyone has to be speaking the same message’

As of April 26, Blacks accounted for 28% of COVID-19 vaccinations in Louisiana, while making up 32% of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Whites accounted for 61% of vaccinations, while representing 62% of the population.

Notably, Black residents make up an alarming 39% of deaths due to COVID-19 in the state.

Read more at Leesville Daily Leader

Fantasy sports betting on track for 2021 football season

Published: May 4, 2021

By: Ryan Nelsen | LSU Manship School News Service

FanDuel logo

FanDuel, the giant wagering platform, confirmed it is on track to provide fantasy sports gambling in Louisiana by the beginning of this year’s football season.

Stacie Stern, governmental affairs director at FanDuel, said in an interview that FanDuel is working with Louisiana Gaming Board and the state police to launch its product.

Two companies have applied to provide fantasy sports contests, according to Maj. Chuck McNeal of the Louisiana State Police Gaming Enforcement Division, who says both entities will be operational soon. 

“It will definitely happen before the fall,” said McNeal, “as long as my investigators are getting all the documentation and paperwork they need.”

In 2018, voters in 47 parishes approved daily fantasy games in which users create a fictional roster of players and tally their statistics against other players’ teams for prize money. The games can be played on mobile phones or computers. The state will tax the operators’ net gambling revenue at 8%. 

Louisiana was one of only seven states that did not allow fantasy sports betting in 2020. People in the 17 parishes that did not vote in favor will not be able to compete within parish lines.

“Getting the law changed was a really big step for us,” said Stern. “It’s definitely a big sport-fan state, so we’re excited to launch our product.”

Read more at The West Side Journal

Proposal to provide $10M in aid to Louisiana loggers moves forward in legislature

Published: May 4, 2021

By: Sydney McGovern | LSU Manship School News Service

capital.jpg
STAFF PHOTO BY G. ANDREW BOYD The Louisiana state capital building in Baton Rouge, LA, with the Exxon chemical refinery in the background, in this 1992 file photo. ORG XMIT: NOLA2016012911291110 ORG XMIT: NOLA1704071906228255G. ANDREW BOYD

Legislation to provide relief dollars to the logging industry in Louisiana is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 642 would create the Louisiana Loggers Relief Program to issue a total of $10 million in grants for timber harvesting and timber-hauling businesses.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, sponsored the measure along with co-sponsors Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and House Appropriations Committee Chair Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.

The House Committee on Appropriations unanimously approved the bill on Monday and could be heard on the House floor later this week.

“These businesses hadn’t been included in any of the federal agriculture relief programs that other farmers and agriculture producers had been able to utilize,” Zeringue said.

The program would be administered by the state treasurer using resources from the Louisiana Main Street Recovery Program. Funding comes from Congress’ American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which provided $5.18 billion in aid to Louisiana for a variety of purposes.

Buck Vandersteen, executive director of the Louisiana Forestry Association, applauded the legislators for realizing the role that loggers play in supplying essential products to the state and country.

“It’s a good way to recognize people that often go unseen but are extremely vital,” Vandersteen said. “The governor called them essential workers, and they worked through all of COVID-19. They kept things going, and they made sure that the mills had the fiber that they needed to produce paper products and building materials.”

In December, Congress included $200 million in funding for logging businesses that suffered a loss in revenues due to the pandemic.

But Congress never specified the rules for obtaining the funds, and with the change in presidential administrations, the money was further delayed. While other agricultural industries were granted relief, logging businesses never saw federal money.

Read more at The Advocate

House committee approves extending early voting from 7 to 10 days during presidential elections

Published: May 5, 2021

By: Sydney McGovern, LSU Manship School News Service

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

BATON ROUGE, La. – A bill to extend early voting from seven to 10 days during presidential elections was approved unanimously by a House committee Wednesday.

Rep. Frederick Jones, D-Monroe, offered his bill after the record voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election. Louisiana saw over 2.1 million people vote in November, and 986,000 of them voted early in-person.

The bill originally extended early voting for every election, but after financial concerns from the registrars of voters, Jones limited the bill to presidential elections. The extension of early voting comes with a price tag of $400,000 to the state, including pay for poll workers.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin noted that while early voting provides a great convenience to voters, extending this period for every election would come with challenges for his office and the registrars.

Limiting the bill to presidential elections also allows for more time to adjust election timelines.

“By making it a specific election and only for that election, it doesn’t give us the heartburn that any further expansion would,” Ardoin said. “For any consideration of future expansion, we will need more time between elections, and we will have to pull back the calendar earlier in the year.”

John Couvillon, founder of JMC Analytics and Polling, spoke in favor of the bill, saying that since early voting was introduced in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it has succeeded fantastically.

“Before early voting was introduced, you basically had 97% of the electorate voting on election day, so you were shoehorning nearly 2 million voters into one day’s worth of voting,” Couvillon said.

“Given the fact that we expanded early voting, the proverbial, ‘If you build it, they will come’ certainly happened last year,” he added.

The first presidential election in which early voting was used in Louisiana was in 2008 with 15% of Louisianans participating. That number significantly increased in each presidential election since, to 18% of all voters in 2012 and 26% in 2016.

Early in-person voting expanded to 14 days in the November election because of the temporary emergency voting plan under the COVID-19 pandemic, and a record 46% of Louisianans chose to vote early.

That early-voting period has since returned to the normal seven days, but with a permanent extension of early voting, legislators hope to maintain a high turnout.

Read more at KALB

Bill that would restrict law enforcement from using no-knock warrants, chokeholds advances

Published: April 27, 2021

By: Ryan Nelson, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. – A bill that would restrict law enforcement officials from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds advanced Tuesday.

Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, moved his bill, SB34, through the Senate Judiciary B Committee, and it will next go to the Senate floor. The bill restricts law enforcement officers from conducting no-knock warrants at night and from using chokeholds, and it calls for more cameras to increase accountability.

Sen. Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport said, however, that he would debate the restriction on a no-knock warrant on the Senate floor as “most bad things happen at night.”

“I think we need to have a very serious discussion about this,” Talbot said. “When a judge assigns it, they ought to be able to do this thing at night or day. As long as it’s legal and they follow the rules and regs.”

Rebekah Taylor, program manager at the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Criminal Justice, sat with Fields as he introduced his bill and said it gave the courts clarity on how these warrants are being served.

“The officers are not announcing themselves as they entering a residence based on a warrant that’s been signed by a judge,” said Talbot. “This legislation would prohibit those types of warrants from being executed, except when probable cause has been shown.”

Lt. Robert Burns of the Louisiana State Police said the practice of serving no-knock warrants has “greatly diminished” over the years.

“We do a lot more of what’s called a surround-and-call-out where we protect all entrances and exits of a property, and we use as many tactics as we can to try to gain communication with occupants of the property,” said Burns.

Read more at KALB

Louisiana bill to ban transgender girls from playing on female sports teams clears committee

Published: April 30, 2021

By: Ryan Nelsen, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — A bill that would ban transgender girls from playing on a female sports team passed without a single objection in the Senate Education Committee Thursday.

A recent influx of similar bills has appeared around the country and have received the label “anti-trans” by activists. The bill, written by Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, will head to the Senate for a vote. Mizell said this bill “protects female athletes.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he opposes the bill and will seek to veto it along with other bills that impose restrictions on transgender people.

Melissa Flournoy, a former Louisiana legislator, testified in opposition to the bill, calling it “unnecessary” and warning that the NCAA has said it will not host championship games in states that pass laws that discriminate against transgender athletes.

More:Why the gender-affirming care debate for minors in Louisiana is a concern for the rest of the Gulf South

“I hope you understand the national business climate and how these anti-transgender bills affect our ability to keep the Sugar Bowl,” said Flournoy. She pointed out that New Orleans is scheduled to host the NCAA Final Four in 2022.

A bill by Sen. Beth Mizell would ban transgender girls from playing on female sports teams.
A bill by Sen. Beth Mizell would ban transgender girls from playing on sports teams. Photo courtesy of Sen. Beth Mizell

Eddie Bonine, the executive director of Louisiana High School Athletic Association, said there has not been an occurrence of a transgender student wanting to play sports. He supported the bill as he sees it solidifying LHSAA’s current policy.

Dylan Waguespack of True Colors Unite, a youth homeless outreach program that focuses on the LGBTQ community, said LHSAA policies have already eliminated the chance for transgender students to play sports.

The LHSAA policy states that a transgender student can play sports if the surgical and anatomical changes have been completed.

“A minor would never receive those procedures,” said Waguespack.

No law in Louisiana prohibits gender reassignment surgery for minors, but guidelines posted by the Endocrine Society state that the operation should not take place until the individual is 18.

Read more at The Advertiser

LSU faculty senate votes to require Covid-19 vaccination

Published: April 23, 2021

By: Kathleen Peppo, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La (LSU Manship School News Service) –A resolution calling on LSU to add the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of mandatory immunizations for students returning to campus this fall passed the LSU Faculty Senate 52-1 Thursday.

Inessa Bazayev, one of the professors who proposed the resolution, said 140 LSU faculty members had signed on to it out of concern about the potential health risks for them and their students.

Bazayev, an associate professor of music theory, said the resolution “prioritizes students’ safety by requiring students to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to the start to fall 2021, given that LSU was planning on a return to face-to-face instruction in the fall, including for large classes.”

Professor Roger Laine, a biological sciences professor, voiced his wholehearted support, saying he was “unwilling to get into a room where my 35 students are not vaccinated.”

Political Science Professor Daniel Tirone said that LSU is scheduling classes at 100% of classroom capacity.

“So it is obvious that the intention is that they’re going to have every seat filled to the extent that they can, but it is not clear that they’re going to maintain the current mitigation measures,” he said. “And so that, I think, only enforces the need for the vaccine requirement.”

The nearly unanimous vote came after LSU’s interim president, Tom Galligan, and University of Louisiana System President Dr. Jim Henderson announced this week that they did not plan to require the more than 125,000 students at their schools to get the vaccine before returning for in-person classes in the fall.

More than 70 universities across the country have said they will require the vaccine, a point continually brought up by LSU professors at Thursday’s meeting. A recent survey indicated that about a third of Louisiana residents do not plan to take the vaccine, raising fears among the professors that a similar percentage of students might return from summer vacation without it.

“I think it’s really important that all the students be vaccinated, and these other major universities have already done this, so I 100 percent support this,” said Laine.

“More institutions join this reasonable and responsible movement every day,” Bazayev said.

The University of California and the California State University systems were among the latest to announce vaccination plans. They said Thursday that they intend to require vaccines for the 1 million students and employees of their 33 campuses once the federal Food and Drug Administration formally approves the vaccines.

Galligan and Henderson have said their campuses cannot require students to be vaccinated because the FDA has only approved the COVID vaccine for emergency use and has not completed its full safety investigations. But other universities have said that the health risks and the possibility of additional COVID-19 variants warrant vaccine requirements.

Read more at The Advertiser

Louisiana absentee vote counting, teens can accompany voters bills

Published: April 23, 2021

By: Sydney McGovern, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — A House committee advanced a bill Thursday to extend the time to prepare and verify absentee ballots prior to election day.

It also advanced a bill that may soon allow teenagers to accompany parents in the voting booth.

Both bills were written by Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria. The bill involving teens would permit children up to 15 years old to enter voting machines. Present law allows parents to bring only a pre-teen child into the booth.

Harris’ other bill would allow parishes, with permission from the secretary of state, to process mail-in and early voting ballots starting three days before election day.

“The changes would provide more time and attention to the verification process and ensure, as we’ve seen in some of these past elections, that the results would be reported timely, hopefully on election night,” Harris said.

Current state law permits parishes to conduct the verification process for absentee ballots the day before an election. The absentee ballots are not counted until election day, but Harris hopes that by preparing the ballots sooner, parishes can certify election results more quickly.

This bill comes in the wake of the November presidential election in which news organizations did not project the winner for three days as some states still counted their absentee ballots.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the bill would not change the final date to accept absentee ballots. They still must be received by 4:30 p.m. the day before an election.

Read more at The Advertiser

Senators back mandatory kindergarten bill for Louisiana

Sen. Cleo Fields heard testimony Wednesday on his bill to require mandatory kindergarten.
Sen. Cleo Fields heard testimony Wednesday on his bill to require mandatory kindergarten.(Credit: : Emily Wood/LSU Manship School News Service)

Published: April 21, 2021

By: Emily Wood, LSU Manship School News Service

The Senate Education Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to advance a bill that requires mandatory kindergarten and school attendance for Louisiana children beginning at age five.

“We have about 2,800 kids who do not attend kindergarten in the state of Louisiana,” Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, the author of the bill author and the committee’s chairman. “Early childhood education is a necessity. A brain is developed most in the ages from birth to five years of age and this bill will give us an opportunity to take advantage of that.”

Senate Bill 10 will require each city, parish and local school board to offer full-day kindergarten instruction to any child who turns five before September 30th of the calendar year in which the school year begins. Children younger than five may enter kindergarten if they are evaluated and identified as gifted by the Louisiana Department of Education.

Present law does not mandate kindergarten attendance, and a child in Louisiana is not required to start attending school until age seven.

During the hearing, multiple amendments were added to the bill, including one stating that the bill allows for home study programs or nonpublic schools not seeking state approval to qualify as a kindergarten program under the law.

Susan East Nelson, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families, spoke in support of the bill. In 2015, the Louisiana Partnership launched a platform for children with mandatory kindergarten being a major item on the agenda.

She stated that kindergarten gives children healthy meals and developmental screening beginning at a younger age.

Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, the Senate’s president pro tempore, disagreed with the bill on the grounds that some children are not ready to attend kindergarten at the age of five.

Read more at KALB

LSU, UL System consider ways to accommodate staff concerned about returning to in-person classes

LSU, UL System consider ways to accommodate staff concerned about returning to in-person classes
File photo of the Memorial Tower on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La. (Source: WAFB)

Published: April 21, 2021

By: Adrian Dubose | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE, La. – After announcing this week that they will not require students to get COVID-19 vaccines, the presidents of LSU and the University of Louisiana System said Wednesday that they are reviewing how to accommodate faculty members who feel they might be at risk in returning to in-person classes this fall.

Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the UL system, said the nine universities in his system will assess requests by faculty members to teach online on a case-by-case basis assuming that the vaccines are as effective as expected and depending on public health conditions at the time.

Henderson said administrators will consider age, medical conditions and family health concerns, along with the latest public health guidance, in making the decisions.

“Widespread vaccination is just recently underway,” he said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and other researchers “are collecting copious amounts of data that will lead to much more informed decision-making over the coming weeks.”

But if the pandemic worsens, he said, “we will adapt. Ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff are paramount,” he said.

“We will err on the side of health and safety,” he added.

LSU Interim President Tom Galligan said his university has not decided whether it would require unvaccinated students to wear masks to class or tell professors how many unvaccinated students were in their classes.

Henderson said the UL System does not plan to make such lists. “The idea of keeping and sharing a list of unvaccinated students for masking is logistically impractical and likely legally problematic,” he said.

“The vaccine is the protection for the faculty members and students,” Henderson said. “If the vaccine is determined to be insufficient protection for the vaccinated, everyone will wear masks. If the environment is still not safe, based on public health guidance, we will go back to widespread accommodations.”

Henderson said he had discussed the options for faculty exemptions with the presidents of the universities in his system. The nine schools together have nearly 92,000 students.

Read more at Fox 8