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This Hour: Latest Louisiana news, sports, business and entertainment

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CHILD SALE

Leesville man accused of trying to buy child

LEESVILLE, La. (AP) - A 66-year-old Leesville man is in custody, accused of trying to buy and rape a 10-year-old child.

Scott Moreau, spokesman for Louisiana State Police Troop E, says Ernest Kickel Jr. was arrested Monday on charges of attempted aggravated rape and trafficking of children for sexual purposes.

Moreau says items were found in Kickel's home corroborating his plan to have sex with a minor child. He did not specify what those items were.

KPLC-TV reports Kickel is in the Vernon Parish jail on $1.5 million bond. It was unknown whether Kickel has an attorney.

The American Press reports Kickel unsuccessfully ran for an at-large seat on the Leesville City Council in the April 5 election, getting 11 percent of the vote.

COMMON CORE-LOUISIANA

White: Ruling lets Common Core test plans resume

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's education chief says a court ruling allows state officials to resume development of Common Core test plans that have been in the making for four years.

But moments after state Superintendent of Education John White's comments Wednesday, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said White's agency runs the risk of using a defective state contract if it proceeds with its exam plans. And she says there could be financial repercussions and other problems in upcoming months.

The Advocate reports White and Nichols commented a day after Common Core backers won a court fight over whether assessments for the new standards will unfold as planned. A judge Tuesday issued an injunction lifting the Jindal administration's suspension of state test contracts that White and others planned to use for spring tests.

OFFSHORE GULF SALE

US government sells 400,000 acres in Gulf of Mexico off Texas coast

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The federal government has sold more than 400,000 acres in the western Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast for oil and gas exploration and development.

U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management official Michael Celata says Wednesday's sales, if approved, will bring in about $110 million.

Celata says deep-water tracts drew the highest bids.

Conoco Phillips paid about $61 million for a single tract in the ultra-deep-water Alaminos Canyon area.

The sale is the latest in the Obama administration's five-year program to aggressively develop resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Previous sales involved about 60 million offshore acres in the western Gulf, which added about $2.3 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

The government must decide whether to award the tracts to bidders within 90 days.

SERIAL KILLINGS-APPEAL

Convicted killer Derrick Todd Lee loses appeal

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Condemned serial killer Derrick Todd Lee has failed to convince a state judge that he deserves a new trial in the 2002 slaying of former LSU graduate student Charlotte Murray Pace.

The Advocate reports Lee's case now goes to the Louisiana Supreme Court. If justices also reject Lee's arguments, the case would move to the federal post-conviction relief stage.

State District Judge Richard Anderson on Tuesday denied the 45-year-old St. Francisville man's state court petition for post-conviction relief. Anderson rejected, among other things, Lee's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilt and penalty phases of his trial in Baton Rouge.

Lee was found guilty in 2004 of first-degree murder in the May 31, 2002, killing of the 22-year-old Pace and sentenced to death.

LSU HOSPITALS

Federal agency has questions about hospital deals

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's revised financing plan for six LSU hospital privatization deals is running into questions from federal health officials who rejected a previous version.

The state health department on Wednesday released the three-page question letter from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS.

Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars.

In May, CMS rejected the plans for six hospital deals, saying the agreements don't meet federal guidelines. So, the state Department of Health and Hospitals sent a new proposal.

DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says the questions are a typical part of the process and "positive sign" the revised financing plan could be approved.

SEC-FANS

SEC: Schools take steps to improve fan experience

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - The Southeastern Conference says all 14 members have taken steps to improve the fan experience at league football stadiums.

Commissioner Mike Slive said Wednesday that SEC schools "have made it a priority to engage their fans in a way that will enhance their in-game enjoyment and satisfaction."

SEC athletic directors approved forming a working group in June 2012 to review attendance trends and recommend ways to improve fan experience.

The league says 57 of 100 games played at SEC venues in 2013, including the SEC championship game, were filled to capacity. Average attendance climbed more than a 1,000 to 75,674 last season.

A study showed that the areas of most concern to fans are availability of concessions and restroom conditions.

The changes include showing in-game highlights on stadium video boards.

GOPHER FROGS

Bench trial in endangered frog habitat suit

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal judge is considering the claim that federal wildlife officials made an illegal land grab by listing 1,500 acres of private land in Louisiana as critical habitat for an endangered burrowing frog: the dusky gopher frog.

District Judge Martin Feldman told lawyers for landowners, the U.S. government and an environmental group Wednesday that he'll rule as soon as possible.

Feldman told the lawyers his biggest concerns include whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed proper procedures, and the agency's estimate that the designation could cost landowners up to $33 million.

Justice Department attorney Mary Hollingsworth says that's an unlikely extreme if the owners wanted to develop the timberland.

Weyerhaeuser Co. attorney Zach Hiatt says that's not out of the question, since the land is near a developed area.

SAINTS-BYRD'S BACK

Byrd eager to test back, mesh with Saints defense

MANDEVILLE, La. (AP) - Saints safety Jairus Byrd has rarely been so eager to hit and be hit, if only to reassure himself that his surgically repaired back is a healed as doctors believe.

Byrd, the top free agent acquisition by New Orleans this offseason, has been cleared for contact this week, allowing him to practice with no limitations for the first time since he signed a six-year, $56 million contract in March.

Byrd says he plans to play his first preseason game Saturday night in Indianapolis, and that he'll spend the next couple weeks working to get in synch with the secondary he'll be expected to help lead.

The Saints hope Byrd will help them produce more turnovers. The three-time Pro Bowl safety has 22 interceptions in his first five NFL seasons.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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