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Blanco: Pork Still on the Cutting Board
You might be able to take the slush funds out of the budget, but pork by any other name squeals just as loudly. Gov. Kathleen Blanco knows that all too well as she continues to review the state's $26.7 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that started this past Saturday (July 1). This year's spending plan, embodied in House Bill 1, has come under fire from good government groups and editorial writers because it contains more than $31 million in pet projects tacked on by lawmakers, according to the Council for a Better Louisiana. Fairs, festivals, reunion centers and other oddities made up the budget in the wake of two devastating hurricanes. But here's the real rub: local pork was supposed to be curbed by Blanco's decision last year to eliminate the Urban and Rural Development Funds. The two accounts were dubbed "slush funds" because governors could use the construction money to dole out political favors in return for legislative votes on difficult issues. Blanco has until July 11 to remove excesses from the budget via her constitutionally granted line-item veto authority, says governor's spokesperson Roderick Hawkins. Because so many legislative projects slithered into the spending plan, that process may take until the final hour. "She is taking a careful look at everything," Hawkins says. "Of course, we will contact the legislators who put the item in there when something is taken out." -- Alford

 

Smoke Signals
The Surgeon General's report last week expressing new concerns about secondhand smoke has caught the attention of Louisiana officials. The day after the Surgeon General's announcement, Dr. Fred Cerise, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, seized the opportunity to point out two anti-smoking bills that were passed during the recent regular session. One prohibits people from smoking in vehicles with a child inside, and the other bans smoking in certain indoor places. "These laws demonstrate there is widespread support by citizens for greater measures that restrict smoking in public places and near children," Cerise says. Lobbyists with the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society also have been blanketing the Fourth Floor of the Capitol with the report as Gov. Kathleen Blanco reviews the two recently passed anti-smoking bills. Officials from the hospitality industry have urged the governor to veto one of those bills, which bans smoking in all restaurant bars. Restaurant owners say the ban as written will chase customers to bars that do not serve full menus, because such bars are exempt from the bill. Restaurant industry leaders say they don't promote smoking; they just want all bars to be treated equally under the law. Blanco has until July 11 to veto or approve the two anti-smoking bills. -- Alford

 

Court Wish: Cop "Gist"
District Attorney Eddie Jordan and Police Chief Warren Riley last week vowed to work anew on long-standing problems between their two agencies, such as improving the quality of police reports for criminal prosecution. Meanwhile, inadequate police reports in misdemeanor cases continue to result in the release of suspects from jail, Gambit Weekly has learned. During technical testimony at a recent federal criminal trial, Ronnie Lampard, clerk of Municipal Court, told U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk that Police Chief Warren Riley had assigned an officer to make sure that all cops give a very brief handwritten "gist" of facts when issuing a summons or making an arrest for a misdemeanor violation, such as fighting. Formally known as the "officer's incident summary," the gist gives a cop's probable cause or legal basis for enforcement action and offers the judge and lawyers in the case some idea of what the case is about. Two months after his testimony, Lampard said, "The situation has improved, but it is still not resolved." Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens told Gambit, "I had 45 prisoners in court yesterday, and I had to let 11 of them go because I didn't have a gist. You can't hold someone without probable cause! If it's important enough to arrest a guy, it ought to be important enough to fill out a one- or two-sentence gist." For example, Lampard says, a cop making an arrest for public drunkenness, could write: "Subject observed stumbling down Bourbon Street ... odor of alcohol on breath ... slurred speech." Lt. Arden Taylor of the police inspections division and NOPD's liaison with Municipal Court has issued a department-wide memo on the importance of the gist, which is expected to be reinforced at police roll calls. -- Johnson

 

GOP Lining Up Behind Romero
One of the biggest challenges state Sen. Craig Romero faced during the 2004 election in Louisiana's Third Congressional District -- aside from the fact that the contest was one of the nastiest in the nation -- was opposition from within his own party. Nowadays, the New Iberia Republican seems to have his base solidified. The chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party has endorsed Romero's campaign, as has the national co-founder of the Christian Coalition. And last week Romero entered the conservative inner sanctum when he received checks from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt at a fundraiser hosted by members of key congressional committees. Although not direct endorsements, traceable money is just as good sometimes. -- Alford

 

"A.C." for the "House of D"
Air conditioning finally came to the House of Detention (HOD) last week, but only after three people fainted from the summer heat in Municipal Court's temporary quarters at the old jail. Among them was a middle-age assistant city attorney who had to be rushed to the hospital, court officials say. Early last week, workmen with cranes hoisted giant air compressors to the jail's roof. "Everybody thought this was never going to happen," smiled veteran Judge John Shea, who stood among dozens of citizens waiting outside the HOD to appear for city misdemeanor cases. Inside the sweltering first-floor courtroom -- the old police "show-up" room of HOD -- Judge Bruce McConduit presided in a short-sleeve shirt. Orange-suited prisoners sat on the floor nearby. By that afternoon, the a/c was on. The air conditioning came in response to an emergency request of city Chief Administrative Officer Brenda Hatfield by the court's four judges -- Shea, McConduit, Paul Sens and Sean Early. The city will seek reimbursement from FEMA. In the coming weeks, the court expects to move into an old textile building nearby, at the invitation of Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman. Hurricane Katrina flooded the Municipal Court/Traffic Court complex (727 S. Broad St.) next to the HOD, destroying the building's electrical system and Judge Early's city-owned Crown Victoria. Municipal Court reopened Oct. 3 at the Greyhound bus station, then moved to HOD in mid-November. -- Johnson

 

Newcomb Alums Fight On
After winning a second consecutive court battle late last week, Tulane University on July 1 planned to close H. Sophie Newcomb College, ending the 120-year history of one of the nation's first degree-granting institutions for women. "We are not planning any ceremony," said Tulane spokesperson Michael Strecker. "It's just going to happen administratively." Newcomb and Tulane's six other colleges will be merged into a single undergraduate institution, renamed Newcomb-Tulane College. The merger will save money by eliminating duplicate services "but the primary purpose ... is to ensure a common undergraduate experience for every Tulane student," Strecker said. Opponents, including Newcomb alumni who graduated in the 1930s, argue that the merger is a power grab aimed at Newcomb's $43.2 million endowment, which is separate from Tulane's $850 million endowment. A federal judge on March 30 refused several opponents' requests to block the merger, and the battle moved to state court. Late last week, Civil District Court Judge Rose Ledet denied a request by two relatives of the late Josephine Newcomb -- founder of the college -- for a preliminary injunction to stop the merger. Renee Seblatnigg, president of The Future of Newcomb College Inc., says the opposition group plans to raise $300,000 for more court fights to stop the dismantling of the historic women's college. "Every day we receive offers of help on our Web site, www.newcomblives.com," says Seblatnigg. The group's emails conclude with a quotation attributed to the late Ann Many, acting dean of Newcomb in the 1950s: "Remember ladies: [Tulane] only married us for our money." -- Johnson

 

Old Glory on the Stump
Several polls conducted in June bolster the forecast that flag burning will be a fiery topic during the upcoming congressional races nationwide. CNN reports that 56 percent of its respondents favor a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration, while the opposing FOX Network brags that 73 percent in its poll want to criminalize the act. NBC, meanwhile, touts a survey revealing 44 percent of voters are more likely to back a candidate with these convictions. When the U.S. Senate took up a constitutional amendment banning flag burning last week, Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, immediately sent out a press release touting her supportive vote. She called the American flag "our nation's most enduring symbol of freedom." She also adds, "today's vote notwithstanding, I still believe this amendment and the Freedom of Speech can stand side-by-side in our Constitution." Analysts have warned that Landrieu's previous left-of-center leanings could come back to haunt her in Louisiana's right-shifting landscape. Her flag-burning stance certainly puts her in lockstep with Louisiana's conservative voters -- on at least one topic. -- Alford

 

Louisiana's Catch Phrase
An editor at the Alexandria Town Talk thinks the state should have another slogan besides "Open For Business," which has been the mantra for months of elected officials seeking to attract jobs to the state. Meanwhile, the state tourism campaign is "Come as you are, leave different." Readers were asked to offer alternatives, and dozens of responses poured in from around the state. The list started off with the usual prayer of thanks for not being Mississippi. Some were cruel, such as "It's drowning in fun," or politically poignant, such as "We keep our money in freezers." One even promised, "Come On Vacation, Leave On Probation." -- Alford

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