The world's largest sausage festival, also known as the annual session of the Louisiana Legislature, wound up last week without the usual amount of bloodshed. That's because lawmakers spent little time debating most measures. Thanks to an engorged state budget, their mantra seemed to be "Don't worry, be happy." Which brings us to our annual recap of "da winnas and da loozas," which this year includes the earlier special session. Let's begin with ...
1. Gov. Mike Foster -- Gov. Warbucks seems to be hitting his stride this year, in contrast to his many stumbles of a year ago. He got the Harrah's deal through in a special session, then got almost everything he asked for in the regular session: higher pay for teachers and college professors; money for early childhood education; money for the TOPS college scholarship program; authority to sell part of the tobacco settlement; and restructuring the state Department of Economic Development, among others. And he did it all without kicking up a lot of dust.
2. Harrah's -- The New Orleans casino has removed all the major restraints that gambling foes initially placed on it. It can operate a hotel and provide expanded restaurant service. Now all Harrah's needs is more players.
3. Teachers -- School teachers and college professors still haven't reached the elusive "southern average" in pay, but they're now closer than they've been in decades. Even if Harrah's doesn't succeed, they'll get their money. It's the law.
4. The Saints -- No, they haven't reached a deal yet with the state, but part of the overall package passed: naming rights at the Superdome. Talks are continuing, and it's clear that Saints owner Tom Benson is naming his price to keep the team in New Orleans.
5. Prison Reform Advocates -- When was the last time you saw Louisiana lawmakers reducing prison terms and loosening restrictions on judges in criminal cases? The high cost of locking them up and throwing away the key has finally come home to roost, and even conservative Republicans are starting to support alternative sentencing measures.
6. Central Louisiana -- Alexandria finally got its own four-year university, LSUA. Now, if we can just get kids to go there.
Which brings us to ...
1. The Fair Grounds -- The historic and beloved New Orleans race course was supposed to get permission to put slots at the track, phased in over the next few years, as a result of the Harrah's deal. But somebody obviously reneged. Other tracks in the state are allowed slots, but it may take two more years for this matter even to be considered.
2. School Support Workers -- For years, cafeteria workers, janitors and other school support workers rode teachers' coattails in getting raises from lawmakers. No more. Classroom teachers got permanent raises this year; support workers got a one-time $300 bonus.
3. The Liquor Lobby -- At the insistence of Uncle Sam, lawmakers voted to reduce from .10 to .08 the blood-alcohol level required for a DWI conviction. The booze industry did get lawmakers to postpone the new law's effective date until 2003, and it killed a bill that would have banned auto passengers from having open containers.
4. Louisiana Consumers -- Everybody thought the fight was over when lawmakers killed a bill to require gasoline retailers to mark up gas. We still have a law on the books that requires other retailers to mark up certain products.
5. Gay Rights Advocates -- Once again, efforts to modernize Louisiana's anti-sodomy laws were shot down. These law rarely, if ever, are used in criminal prosecutions, and married couples routinely violate them. Worse yet, they give grass-eaters a chance to go tub-thumping in the Bible Belt.