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Da Winnas & Da Loozas 

I suppose one appropriate way to celebrate our nation's independence is to note that we are free of the current crop of legislators once and for all. That's an overstatement, of course, because the way things are going, most of them will be back after the autumn statewide elections.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. While the recently concluded legislative session is still fresh in our memories, let's renew our annual ritual of taking stock of the victorious and the vanquished -- or, as we used to say in my old Ninth Ward neighborhood, da winnas and da loozas.


1. The Alcohol Industry. Like many other winners this year, the alcohol lobby won by not losing. Open containers were the big target of reformers this year, but the beer boyz triumphed time and again. This is going to be an annual fight, and no doubt the biggest of next year's session as well. For now, though, it's drinks (to go) on the house ... and the Senate, too.

2. Incumbent Legislators. Thanks to a one-time federal bailout, they patched a gaping hole in next year's operating budget and kept their precious slush funds in place -- which will help them stroke key constituencies at election time.

3. Insurance Companies. A new law allows them to raise their rates by up to 10 percent without first having to get approval from state regulators. That's a major victory for underwriters. We'll see how it plays out for ratepayers.

4. The Fair Grounds. The track won a huge victory when lawmakers passed a bill allowing slots at the Gentilly oval. Voters in New Orleans still must approve the idea in an Oct. 4 referendum, but no gambling measure has ever failed to win the support of Crescent City voters.

5. Gov. Mike Foster. He can look forward to retirement now that he has endured his final legislative session. Critics would argue that he retired soon after his second inauguration in January of 2000. That's not true. He did have to work the phones to kill several bills that would have required motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Ride on, dude.

Which brings us to ...


1. Mayor Ray Nagin. Hizzoner was not visible enough in Baton Rouge, and the city's agenda, if it had one, seemed unfocused. (See our commentary on p. 7.) Ironically, most of his problems were with his own delegation, not upstate lawmakers. The good news is that Nagin is a quick study. If he throws himself at the problem by next year, he can turn things around. The other good news is that next year's session will again be an "open" one that's not limited to fiscal matters.

2. The Next Governor. Whoever he or she may be, a whole lotta pain and heartache awaits our next chief executive. Start with the budget mess -- built-in revenue shortfalls and swollen spending commitments -- plus a sagging economy and a Legislature that just loves the status quo. This being an election year, lawmakers were particularly loath to rock the boat. If most of them return (and it appears most will), change will be even harder to come by.

3. Private and Parochial Schools. The Catholic Church and private schools appeared to have their best chance for passing school vouchers, but the voucher bills went nowhere fast. Give teacher unions and public school lobbies their due.

4. Oystermen and Their Lawyers. A few cases in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes resulted in judgments totaling more than $2 billion for oystermen who claimed their leases were ruined by erosion control projects. But the cases had a "home-cooked" taste that rivaled ya mama's roast beef and mashed potatoes, so lawmakers passed a bill to cap the damage awards -- retroactively. If the law survives a court challenge, it'll be a rare victory for taxpayers.

5. Reformers. Those seeking to improve the efficiency or openness of government won no major victories. Meanwhile, members of a special committee meeting to choose a new legislative auditor took a secret ballot to pare the field down to two -- in direct contravention of the state's Open Meetings Law. Elsewhere, lawmakers routinely passed taxes disguised as "fees" during a session that supposedly could not consider revenue measures.

That's why they call it "making sausage."


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