California Lawmakers Adjourn, Others Face Special Sessions
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
As California wrapped up its legislative season, lawmakers in Missouri, Alaska and Delaware were preparing for special sessions. In California, landmark legislation was approved that will lead to sweeping nursing home reforms.
A General Accounting Office report published last year criticized California for not having addressed nursing care problems first identified 15 years ago. Spurred to action, lawmakers approved a bill that increases pay and provides for better training for nursing home staffers.
Elderly driver testing was another hotly contested issue in Sacramento this past session. A bill that would have required more frequent behind-the-wheel driving tests for anyone over 75 years old was shelved this week for lack of support.
The proposed law was inspired by the death of a young woman who was struck by an elderly driver. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) opposed the bill on the grounds that it had specific age references. One day after the bill was shelved, a Field Institute poll revealed that most of the state's adults favored such a law.
In fact, 68 percent of those 75 or older supported having tests for older drivers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Tighter regulation of managed health care providers was also a topic of debate in Sacramento. Over the summer, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis held closed-door sessions with lawmakers and HMOs to try and negotiate some common ground. In the end, the Senate and Assembly approved bills that would require insurers to cover birth control and gave patients the right to a second opinion when their HMO denies coverage for treatment.
Other laws passed in California this session included:
- Making seat belts mandatory on farm labor vans and buses as of Oct. 1.
- Allocating $1.75 million for the California Highway Patrol to hire at least 10 officers to enforce agricultural labor transportation laws.
- A set of gun control laws that among other things ban several categories of assault weapons and restrict sales of handguns to one a customer a month.
The Missouri legislature is embroiled in an abortion fray which could become even more contentious during a 10-day veto session that begins next week. In July, Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed the so-called Infants Protection Act, which would have made it illegal to kill an infant "by an overt act performed when the infant is partially born or born." Carnahan's office believes the bill would make it possible to charge doctors with homicide based on how they care for premature infants, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said.
In Juneau, Alaska, lawmakers will return on Sept. 22 for a special session to deal with subsistence hunting and fishing rights. In order to meet federal mandates and save rural Alaskan culture, the state will have to amend its constitution. If it does not change it Washington has vowed to take over fisheries allocation on federal land in October.
But there are some lawmakers who think a federal takeover is better than submitting to Uncle Sam, "The issue is more of power and sovereignty and state's rights," Rep. Scott Ogan told the Anchorage Daily News. He added that a takeover would help the state if it files a lawsuit against the Feds.
The Delaware legislature is to hold a special session beginning Oct. 6 to consider Gov. Thomas Carper's plan to make the state's public school system more accountable. But the the president pro tem of the Delaware Senate, Thomas Sharp, has criticized fellow Democrat Carper for failing to let lawmakers in on details of the plan.
Sharp says legislative leaders have been left in the dark by Carper's office and there has not been enough public input into the proposal.
North Carolina Lt. Governor Dennis Wicker, a Democrat who hopes to move up to the state's top job next year, has called for a special session of the North Carolina legislature to consider a state lottery and a bond proposal. But a spokesman in Gov. Jim Hunt's office told stateline.org Hunt and the legislature will work on these issues without one.
Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Ridge is keeping his options open on a special session to aid drought-stricken farmers. Press officer Tom Charles says Ridge has no immediate plans to call one, but hasn't ruled it out. Ridge is waiting for word from Washington regarding disaster aid.
"The Pennsylvania taxpayers pay millions to help other states when disaster hits, now it is our turn - Pennsylvania farmers are devastated," Charles said.