Here are the big headlines to look out for in 2024; Louisiana Unfiltered provides a deeper dive into headlines

BATON ROUGE — The news is hard to predict because it’s always changing. But in 2024, there are already a lot of headlines taking shape.

Unfiltered with Kiran is taking a look at the top 24 stories to watch for in 2024. From politics to sports and entertainment, south Louisiana is looking ahead to many changes in the new year, and we promise to be there to cover it all!

We dive deeper into these headlines in our Louisiana Unfiltered Podcast here:

Here is our Top 24 of 2024.

24. Welcome to the Hall of Fame

Saints record-setting quarterback Drew Brees, LSU basketball superstar Seimone Augustus and mixed martial arts icon Daniel Cormier will be enshrined into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in June.

The Class of 2024 also includes 1992 Olympic wrestling gold medalist Kevin Jackson, a former LSU All-American, along with Perry Clark, who guided Tulane basketball to unprecedented success in the 1990s, and the great Kerry Joseph from McNeese football, who had a 19-year pro career.

Also elected for induction in June are high school football coach Frank Monica, who won state titles at three different south Louisiana schools, and Ray Sibille, a Breeders’ Cup-winning thoroughbred jockey from Sunset who ranks among the nation’s elite riders.

The class also includes Grambling’s Wilbert Ellis, who becomes the second-ever recipient of the Louisiana Sports Ambassador Award.

The 2024 induction celebration has been set for June 20-22 in Natchitoches.

23. Back on track

For the first time since Hurricane Katrina, passenger trains could be returning to the Gulf Coast in 2024.

In September, the U.S. Transportation Department awarded Amtrack a $178 million grant to complete the work necessary to resume passenger rail service between New Orleans and Mobile as early as the end of the first quarter of 2024.

Amtrak has proposed an expansion to the pre-Katrina services with two daily round trips between New Orleans and Mobile with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

The grant will cover a majority of the $223 million improvement project. The remaining money will come from state funding in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The project is being hailed a shot in the arm for local tourism in all three states.

The project’s success could also be what helps push a Baton Rouge-New Orleans passenger rail service. The state has already secured $50 million for the project, and leaders are still working to secure a $200 million federal grant to fully fund the project, with passenger service anticipated to start as early as 2027. There are also local battles over where the rail’s potential Baton Rouge stops will be.

22. Rock the Country comes to Ascension

Gonzales is set to rock in the new year. The Jambalaya Capitol of the World will welcome Kid Rock and Jason Aldean for the “Rock the Country” tour on April 5 and 6.

The concert is the first of seven to be held across small towns in the south in spring and summer. It’ll be held at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center and is expected to be a big boost for the local economy (especially with the absence of Bayou Country Superfest).

Hank Williams, Jr., Travis Tritt, Getchen Wilson and Big & Rich are among the supporting acts. Tickets are already on sale.

21. Amazon fulfillment center to open

Amazon’s $200 million 3.4 million-square-foot logistics hub at the old Cortana Mall is set to open in 2024.

This will be Louisiana’s second fulfillment center to open following the first one built in Lafayette and a third set to open in Shreveport. The Baton Rouge center will support over 1,000 new, full-time jobs, Amazon says.

The facility is expected to open mid-2024.

Rendering (From Amazon/Business Wire)

20. Top Jag on the Bluff

The Southern University Jaguars promoted interim head coach Terrence Graves as the program’s new head coach for the 2024 season.

Graves, an assistant head coach for the Jags, was also a special teams coordinator and linebackers coach. As the interim head coach, Graves led the Jaguars to a 27-22 victory over Grambling State in the 50th Annual Bayou Classic.

Graves is the only coach to win the Bayou Classic with both the Jags and Grambling Tigers.

Graves replaces Eric Dooley, who the university parted ways with at the end of his second season with the Jags. The Jags were 12-10 under Dooley and 9-6 in SWAC play.

19. Back-to-back champs?

Can Kim Mulkey and her Tigers do it again? That’ll be a big question as women’s basketball’s highest-paid coach makes another run for a ring with LSU. It won’t be easy. Only three teams have won consecutive women’s college basketball nation champions: USC, UConn & Tennessee.

The Louisiana native has won four national championships, and led the Tigers to their championship title in 2023 (the team defeated Iowa in the title game). The championship run reportedly led Mulkey to a 10-year, $32 million contract with LSU.

The outspoken (and arguably best-dressed) coach has dealt with locker room drama in the start of their 2023-2024 season. But the stacked team with the No. 1 recruiting class has a lot of work to do before making a national title run in April. Many believe the Tigers could be meeting the Hawkeyes again in the NCAA tournament.

LSU fans will also have their eyes on the LSU baseball team, who also took home a national title in 2023. LSU beat Florida 18-4 in a winner-take-all game 3 of the Men’s College World Series finals. The Kings of Omaha have won seven MCWS titles. Head coach Jay Johnson has a solid blueprint for another championship run with three LSU players named to the 2024 DI Baseball Top 20 list of draft-eligible sophomores: right-handed pitcher/infielder Gavin Guidry, first baseman/catcher Jared Jones and outfielder Paxton Kling.

18. Bridge decisions

A long-awaited new Mississippi River bridge south of Baton Rouge is still on track to name a construction site in 2024.

Louisiana’s Department of Transportation and Development says the state is still on track to name a preferred site for the new bridge by August, according to various media reports.

The project is still in its infancy, despite talk and planning for several years. An environmental impact report on the bridge is expected to be completed by the end of 2024, pushed back from an original August deadline.

The state has narrowed the new bridge locations to three sites in Iberville Parish. The sites are near Plaquemine and St. Gabriel. It is expected that the proposed sites would help ease traffic by connecting La. 1 with La. 30.

Gov.-elect Jeff Landry’s team has signaled that the new bridge is a priority for the administration. But even with a site picked and a completed environmental study, the bridge likely wouldn’t be complete until 2030 or 2031.

17. Welcoming the Hurricanes

The Spartans, Griffins, Tigers and Gators are ready to welcome a new mascot to Ascension Parish — the Hurricanes.

Despite some delays and setbacks, the $69.5 million Prairieville High is now on track to open its doors for the 2024-2025 school year. Construction is currently underway near Prairieville Primary. Once completed, PVPS, PVMS and PVHS will all be situated within the same area, nestled between three main thoroughfares of the Prairieville area: Hwy. 42, Airline Hwy., and Hwy. 44.

The Ascension Parish School Board finalized school zone plans in November. Projected numbers show that East Ascension High School will be the largest high school in the parish with an estimated 1,916 students in grades 9-12. Dutchtown is anticipated to have 1,877 high school students, Prairieville High is expecting to welcome 1,825 students and St. Amant will see an estimated attendance of 1,757. Donaldsonville’s attendance remains roughly the same at 423 students in high school.

16. Ban on gender-affirming health care

House Bill 648, a bill that will ban gender-affirming health care for all transgender youth in the state, is set to become law in 2024.

In a rare occurrence, the Louisiana Legislature has overridden a veto from Gov. John Bel Edwards, allowing a ban on gender-affirming health care for transgender youth to become law. Legal challenges could still block the bill from becoming law.

Similar laws have been blocked by federal judges in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Indiana. In Tennessee and Kentucky, courts have blocked the bans, but another judge lifted the stay in Kentucky and an appeals court in Tennessee has lifted a district court’s enforcement block. 

“The first time I was overridden on the Congressional district map, I said the bill was illegal and I expected the courts would throw it out. The courts have done so,” Edwards said in a statement following the veto session. “Today, I was overridden for the second time, on my veto of a bill that needlessly harms a very small population of vulnerable children, their families and their health care professionals. I expect the courts to throw out this unconstitutional bill, as well.”

The legislature failed to overturn vetoes of two other anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Both of those bills are expected to be back up for debate during the 2024 legislative session.

15. Voting machine showdown

Photo: Associated Press

One of the top tasks for Louisiana’s incoming secretary of state will be replacing the voting machines the state uses in elections.

It was a process that started under outgoing secretary of state Kyle Ardoin in 2018. Ardoin, a Republican, chaired a commission in 2022 to try and narrow down recommendations for what the state should purchase.

The hearings became a stage for 2020 presidential election deniers to spout off false claims of fraud, despite independent auditors determining Louisiana’s elections are safely run.

The commission ended its work with broad suggestions, none of them strong enough to endorse either hand-marked ballots or ballot-marking devices. Ardoin expressed his preference for hand-marked ballots, even though local elections officials raised concerns to him about the increased cost of paper and additional personnel for election day. They also noted the expense to store the paper and anticipated ballot scanning devices. A significant number of polling places and election warehouses aren’t climate controlled.

Ardoin cited “pervasive lies” about Louisiana’s elections for a primary reason he chose not to seek reelection.

Louisiana’s 10,000 voting machines, dating back to 2006, are aging, and the state is having to scavenge for parts to keep the machines working. The Bayou State is the only one who still uses the touchscreen voting machines in statewide elections.

A state law also requires Louisiana’s next voting system to have a paper trail of ballots cast to election results can be properly audited.

14. Total Solar eclipse

The United States will experience a total solar eclipse on April 8.

Millions of Americans will experience up to 4 minutes of darkness as the moon passes in front of the sun, temporarily blocking its light. Louisiana is not in the path of totality, so the sun won’t be completely blocked, but the Baton Rouge area will experience 85-90% coverage.

Killeen and Dallas, Texas along with Hot Springs, Arkansas, will be in the path of totality. Shreveport will experience a 95% coverage. Hotel rooms along the path of totality — from Mexico to Buffalo — have been booked for months.

See NASA’s map detailing the 2024 eclipse

The 2023 total eclipse will be different than the annular eclipse Louisiana experienced in October. During that event, the sunlight dimmed, but the sky never went dark. The U.S. saw the last total solar eclipse in 2017. That eclipse was the first to touch the Lower 48 since 1979 and the first to span the U.S. coast to coast since 1918.

13. Speed cameras on the Atchafalaya Basin

Speed cameras are finally coming to the Atchafalaya Basin in 2024.

The controversial cameras were approved in 2022, and while digital signs are up to tell drivers how fast they’re going, the actual speed cameras have yet to be installed.

The cameras are hoping to deter speeding and cutback on the number of crashes between Lafayette and Baton Rouge that have been known to snarl traffic. If you travel the bridge in 18 minutes or less, you could get a ticket in the mail with a fine of up to $1,000.

12. Going Bananas in Baton Rouge

Made popular by their in-game entertainment and social media videos, the Savannah Bananas are coming to LSU in 2024.

The Savannah Bananas, named the “greatest show in sports” by ESPN, are a circus-like baseball team based in Savannah, Ga., and have gained significant notoriety for their unique take on America’s favorite pastime (think the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball). The social media sensations have sold out every game they’ve played since 2016.

All team rosters will be filled with the most entertaining and talented players in the world, including former Major League Baseball stars and celebrity guests. In 2023, former Major League stars Jake Peavy, Hunter Pence, Johnny Damon, Josh Reddick and Barry Zito all joined the team during the tour.

If you didn’t register for the ticket lottery to see the Bananas in Baton Rouge on March 14-16, you may be out of luck for tickets. Baton Rouge was among the team’s top three cities to enter the lottery with 142,048 entrants. Houston and Boston topped Baton Rouge in ticket requests.

In 2023, the Banana Ball World Tour attracted, sold out, crowds in 33 cities and 20 states.

A random drawing for the team’s ticket lottery will take place in January or February. If selected, fans will have an opportunity to purchase tickets.

“As a baseball destination with a loyal fan base and electric atmosphere, it’s only fitting that the Bananas have selected Baton Rouge to host their first ever game in a college baseball stadium,” said Jill Kidder, President & CEO of Visit Baton Rouge. “It’s truly going to be bananas to see all of the excitement and entertainment that follows them wherever they go!”

11. Paid parental leave showdown

Starting Jan. 1, Louisiana’s 70,000 state workers will have access to six weeks of paid parental leave.

Gov. John Bel Edwards extended the new paid leave in November, which triggered criticism from Republican leaders, including governor-elect Jeff Landry, who hasn’t said whether he will keep the parental leave policy in place.

Currently, most state workers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off when they become new parents. Many use paid vacation and sick days to cover the absence.

10. New NWS radar in Hammond

The National Weather Service will bring their repositioned weather radar online at its new home in Hammond.

It’s part of a long-term plan by the National Weather Service to move their weather radar from Slidell to Hammond to provide more accurate weather data during severe weather events. The KLIX radar in Slidell was turned off in November in preparation for a move to its new home in Hammond. The radar won’t be online until March 2024 at the earliest.

The weather radar is how meteorologist get data to track storms. The radar emits radio waves that bounce off rain, snow or other atmospheric particles which helps determine the speed and direction of the storms.

The previous radar in Slidell had beams extending some 5,500-7,500 feet above the ground. This allowed for a major coverage gap for the Baton Rouge area. The new radar in Hammond will have a lower tilt that will bring the beam to around 1,800-2,800 feet. This shift may appear minor, but will allow meteorologists to get a better view of severe storms by capturing rotations at lower levels to provide better life-saving information.

9. Taylor Swift’s Louisiana Era

Are you ready for it?

After Louisiana Swifties fled for Tennessee, Texas and Georgia to catch the first leg of the mega successful The Eras Tour, they’ll finally get a chance to see one of the most popular tours in history in 2024.

Taylor Swift will bring her world tour to a sold-out Caesars Superdome for three nights (October 25-27). The epic three hour, 44-song set sees Swift showcasing music over her 17-year career from a country darling to pop princess.

While tickets to all three nights of the tour are sold out on Ticketmaster, there are tickets available on StubHub. Tickets range from $1,350 for nosebleed seats positioned behind the stage to nearly $4,000 on the floor near the stage.

For non-Swifties, the Eras Tour is the highest-grossing tour of all time and reportedly the first to reach the $1 billion mark. Her New Orleans set is part of her second U.S. leg. Billboard describes the tour as a “must-see blockbuster” and fans agree. The first day of presale tickets for her U.S. tour sold over 2.4 million tickets, the most sold by an artist in a single day.

8. Redistricting fight deadline

Louisiana will have until Jan. 30 to enact a new congressional map after a court ruling last year said the previous map’s political boundaries dilute the voices of the state’s Black voters.

Louisiana Governor-Elect Jeff Landry takes office January 8, and is expected to call for a special session. However, the earliest that can take place is Jan. 15. That leaves just a very days to draw a new congressional map with two majority-Black districts or face a federal trial.

Both the legislature and the court have already vetted several maps that would comply with the federal law, eliminating the need to bring in demographers, legal consultants and map experts who are typical participants in a full redistricting session.

The political bickering and legal battles over the Republican-drawn congressional maps have been ongoing for nearly two years. Outgoing Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the political boundaries, but the Republican-led legislature overrode his veto.

Louisiana’s current congressional map has white majorities in five of its six districts despite an African American population accounting for one-third the state’s population. Republicans argue that the Black populations are too spread out to be united into a second majority Black district.

7. College Dr. flyover to (finally) open

It seems like construction on I-10 in Baton Rouge has been going on for years. Well, that’s not far from the truth. But 2024 will see a major part of the widening project complete — the College Dr. flyover.

Drivers have been sitting through overnight lane closures and delays for a good chunk of 2023. But it’ll pay off with the $53.3 million project that will realign the I-10 and I-12 merger to create a new College Drive exit ramp. The new ramp will be separated from interstate traffic but easily accessible from I-10 and I-12.

6. Red wave at the state capitol

2024 will see a ruby red wave at the Louisiana state capitol.

After having a two-term Democratic governor, state voters elected far-right conservative Jeff Landry to lead the state for the next four years. Landry won outright during the state’s jungle primary and avoided a costly runoff in November.

His election was a hug win for Louisiana Republicans who took back the Governor’s Mansion and now control all statewide offices and both chambers of the state’s legislature.

Landry and other incoming state officials have vowed to overturn many of Edwards’ left-leaning or neutral policies.

5. Presidential election

Louisiana voters will vote in the presidential primary election on March 23. President Joe Biden will be on the ballot for Democrats. Republican voters will see a variety of candidates from Donald Trump to Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis.

The question will be will Trump have the GOP nomination solidified or will there be a fight for the nomination? Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley believes she and Trump will run a two-way race after the Iowa caucuses in January, making Louisiana a potential player in deciding the Republican nominee.

Voter turnout in the state could be interesting if that’s the case. Louisiana’s 2023 primary election saw a voter turnout of only 36%. That number dropped to 22.5% for the general election in November. Experts warn that the state’s voter apathy may be even lower for a presidential primary that is all but expected to go overwhelmingly for Trump.

The presidential election will be held on November 5.

4. New school leaders in EBR and Livingston

Both Livingston Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish are set to see new school leaders in 2024.

After 31 years with Livingston Parish Schools and six as superintendent, Joe Murphy announced he will retire at the end of the current school year.

His contract was set to expire in 2024. Murphy has been with Livingston schools for three decades. He was selected as superintendent in 2019 when he beat out Jody Purvis and Bruce Chaffin in two votes by the school board.

He has led the district through some of the most trying times – from the Covid-19 pandemic to hurricanes and even overcrowding. He also helped schools navigate rebuilding following the historic 2016 flood as a district administrator.

Still, Murphy has faced backlash among teachers and the community since the failure of a one-cent sales tax to fund teacher pay raises failed earlier this year. Many veteran educators and even school board members blamed Murphy’s leadership and handling of the sales tax for a big reason it failed.

After nearly three hours of debate in December, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted 5-4 on Thursday evening, declining to renew Superintendent Sito Narcisse’s contract for four more years.

Narcisse’s current contract will expire on June 30, 2024, and Dec. 7’s vote likely signifies that the school system will soon start the process of finding its next leader. Thursday night’s debate was the culmination of nearly a year of divide between Narcisse and the board over a contract renewal.

The debate over Narcisse’s contract included many opposing a $55,000 pay raise in 2024. That would have been a 22% increase in pay ($310,000 base salary), and would have made Narcisse the highest-paid school superintendent in Louisiana, surpassing New Orleans Public Schools superintendent Avis Williams.

3. New leadership in South Louisiana

There will be three new parish presidents in south Louisiana: Livingston, Iberville and West Baton Rouge.

Livingston: Randy Delatte will be the next Parish President in Livingston Parish after easily beating fellow Republican councilman Jeff Ard in October.

Delatte and his transition team are operating under the name “New Day Livingston,” which is indicative of the transparency he campaigned on. He says he plans to call for an independent audit of parish finances when he assumes office January 8.

During the campaign, he said he plans to address the parish’s overdevelopment and drainage as well as tackle numerous road projects. He’s already held several public hearings on these topics ahead of his swearing in.

Iberville: Current Iberville Parish School Board member Chris Daigle said he took a big chance when he decided to qualify for the Parish President’s race on the last day. That chance paid off in October when he defeated incumbent Mitchell Ourso, who had been in the role for 26 years.

Daigle won the race by a 53 to 44 margin.

“My administration is going to have a six-month, a one-month, a future plan to build Iberville Parish,” Daigle said. “We are going to meet with all of our local municipalities, and we’re going to go into their communities with my local council members, and I’m going to prove that we’re going to be a united parish under my administration.”

Daigle will also be a leading voice for the new Mississippi River bridge project.

West Baton Rouge: After working as the parish’s chief of administration since 2007, Jason Manola will now be in charge of the parish.

Manola edged Grover Harrison III in October to become the next West Baton Rouge Parish President. He earned 61 percent of the vote.

Manola was on the WBR school board from 2002-2022, where he served as board president for 17 years. Manola is also the former CFO for Ports of America Gulf Region.

2. New BRPD police chief

Five years after being hired to provide new leadership and restore the reputation of the Baton Rouge Police Department, Chief Murphy Paul retired in December paving the way for a new police chief in Baton Rouge.

In his resignation letter, Paul told his department he is retiring and that, “God is leading me towards a new chapter in life.” His departure had been speculated for months.

The next police chief will be taking over a department crippled with staffing shortages and low morale. They’ll also be tasked with dealing with Baton Rouge’s high crime rate.

The Police Chief Search Committee assigned with the chief search has handed over their top five candidates to East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. It’s unclear when she may announce who will replace Paul.

1. A third term for Broome?

The future of Baton Rouge will be up to the voters in November as East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s second term as mayor comes to an end.

Broome has indicated that she intends to seek a third term in office. She was first elected in 2016 after defeating Republican Bodie White. She won a second term in 2020 against the late Steve Carter.

Broome has faced criticism over the controversial storm water fee in 2022. After UWK’s numerous reports, three officials under Broome including the chief administrative officer left the administration after misinformation on the utility fee came to light. She has also faced backlash over the city’s soaring crime rate.

Still, Broome remains a strong candidate heading into an election year. No other candidate has formally announced their candidacy.

Download the Unfiltered with Kiran app from the Apple App Store or Google Play to stay updated on the big headlines to impact south Louisiana in 2024! 

Editor’s Note: Some reports compiled from The Louisiana Illuminator, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Their in-depth investigations and news stories, news briefs and commentary help residents make sense of how state policies help or hurt them and their neighbors statewide.

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