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RELIGIOUS RIGHT HAS POWERFUL PULL ON THE `FREE-WHEELING’ LOUISIANA

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The Louisiana known for boozy Bourbon Street and the excesses of Mardi Gras has been obscured by a Legislature burning with bills to ban abortions, label "bad" records and allow a little head-knocking defense of the flag.

The Legislature's morality quest may have surprised outsiders who picture Louisiana as free-wheeling and laid back. But naughty New Orleans notwithstanding, the religious right has a strong influence on Louisiana politics.The apple-pie issues also served as distractions from the state's fiscal woes.

Lawmakers passed a strict abortion bill that allowed no exceptions for rape or incest victims, even though Gov. Buddy Roemer warned them he'd veto it.

They almost passed a measure that would have eliminated jail terms for people convicted of roughing up flag burners. Later, they gutted that bill and hurriedly substituted anti-abortion language to skip procedural delays and try to get around Roemer's veto.

The new bill had rape and incest provisions, but Roemer said they weren't broad enough. He vetoed that bill Friday, 21/2 weeks after the regular session ended.

Roemer also vetoed a bill that would have required warning labels on potentially offensive recordings and could have sent retailers to jail for selling such records to children. The music industry had threatened to boycott New Orleans if that one became law and Roemer said he was convinced the bill unconstitutionally abridged free-speech rights.

Lawmakers are talking about calling themselves into session in mid-August just to override Roemer's vetos.

Wayne Parent, a political science professor at Louisiana State University, suggested another possible reason for the Legislature's affection for issues of morality - the state's sorry financial condition.

Until a few years ago, Parent said, balancing the state's multibillion-dollar budget was easy. Oil prices were high and oil taxes paid for everything.

Things changed when oil prices plummeted in the mid-1980s.

Lawmakers have had to cut services, put supposedly temporary sales taxes on traditionally exempt items such as groceries and medicine, and fight over Roemer's tax overhaul proposals, most of which have died.

Issues of abortion, the flag and smutty or drug-related records were easy to deal with when the alternatives were a tight budget and unpopular taxes, Parent said.

"These were almost welcome distractions," said Parent.