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Governor will pay his own way to Italy; New details in Friday overseas trip

6 months 6 days 13 hours ago Friday, January 13 2017 Jan 13, 2017 January 13, 2017 10:52 AM January 13, 2017 in The Investigative Unit
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE – The Governor and a posse of state officials will travel to Italy, Friday, his office announced late Thursday.

The trip – which includes State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson – will focus on human trafficking and how the state has taken a leading role in fighting the crime. Also traveling Friday are unnamed legislators.

The entourage is traveling with the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, the state said in a news release issued after state business hours Thursday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and his wife, who are Catholic, are also set to visit with Pope Francis. They'll talk about cooperation among churches and states to fight human trafficking.

According to the state, Louisiana is at the center of one of the worst trafficking areas – the corridor between Houston and New Orleans.

One of the greatest honors of a Catholic and Christian is to meet the Holy Father,” said Gov. Edwards in a statement Thursday evening. “I am humbled by this opportunity, and I am looking forward to discussing the very real threat that human trafficking imposes on Louisiana.  Col. Edmonson and the Louisiana State Police have done a tremendous job investigating instances of human trafficking, but our work is nowhere near complete. This is an incredible opportunity for Louisiana to learn about the partnerships that are available to assist victims of human trafficking, and I know it’ll be a benefit to our state.”

The state also provided a comment from Col. Edmonson: "Even if one life is saved in our mission to end human trafficking, it’s worth the effort.”

While on the trip, Gov. Edwards, Mrs. Edwards and the delegation will tour the North American College where a contingent of Louisiana students are currently studying.

In an email to WBRZ answering questions about how the trip was being financed, the governor's office said travel for the First Lady was being paid for by the family.  At first, the governor's office said travel expenses for Gov. Edwards were going to be paid for by the state but the governor's administration clarified the financing Friday.

The governor said it was his intention to personally fund his trip and not have taxpayers foot the bill.  He said at a news conference on another issue he was going to pay for the trip.  A spokesperson said Friday morning, there was confusion with how the trip appeared in the schedule as to how it was being funded but the governor had always planned to pay for the trip himself.  

Specific information on if the state was financing the trip for the other officials attending were not addressed but a spokesperson said there will be a full accounting of the trip when they return. The governor's office also added, the group is staying at a Roman Catholic educational institution and not a hotel.

While the Edwards family is financing their trip, the state will have to provide security for Gov. Edwards.  Louisiana State Police troopers are legally required to protect the governor.  Information about the cost of the security detail traveling to Italy were not available Thursday or Friday morning.  In WBRZ Investigative reports on former Governor Bobby Jindal's extensive travel in his last years in office, sources said security details averaged the state about $13,000 a day.

The trip comes as chatter continues at the Capitol over the possibility of needing a special legislative session to address Louisiana's ongoing budget issues.  The state's had dire financial concerns, inherited from the Jindal administration. 

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