Iraq War, Gas Prices, Surpluses Mark 2007
By Stateline Staff
States marked with a check( ) have already finished their 2007 sessions. Click on any of these in the chart to jump to a summary of that state or hover your mouse over the special session dates for more information.
|*Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
Deliberations over Gov. Sarah Palin's (R) historic multibillion-dollar natural-gas pipeline deal dominated Alaska's legislative session, forcing the first-term governor to call for a special session to set funding for the state's low-income senior care program.
In an overwhelming vote, lawmakers approved the Alaska Pipeline Inducement Act, establishing a bidding process and financial incentives for the construction of a massive pipeline that would transport huge quantities of untapped natural gas from Alaska's North Slope to the rest of the country.
Succeeding where former Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) failed, Palin combined tax breaks to stimulate competition for the mammoth project with strict timetables and other requirements opposed by major oil companies BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips.
Lawmakers rejected Murkowski's bill last year because they said it included too many industry tax breaks and did not ensure the pipeline would get built. Some industry experts are skeptical that Palin's plan - which was not endorsed by major oil companies - will result in a successful bid for the project.
The pipeline - expected to cost some $20 billion and take at least 10 years to construct - would fulfill about 7 percent of U.S. demand for heating fuel.
Alaska's senior care program, which gives low-income seniors $120 per month in cash assistance and additional help with prescription drug purchases, is scheduled to expire June 30. Proponents of the program say the state - with higher-than-average health-care costs and a rapidly aging population - must take care of its neediest elders. But opponents argue the program has become an entitlement that strains the budget.
In the regular session, lawmakers voted to set a $15 limit on the cost of lunches lobbyists can buy for politicians, allow Alaskan winemakers to ship to in-state consumers and create a task force to overhaul school funding.
Near the end of the session, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted a Republican state lawmaker and two former GOP lawmakers in a scandal that erupted last summer over alleged industry executive bribes aimed at influencing a gasoline tax bill. Former state Senate President Ben Stevens (R), son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was under FBI investigation in the case.
Flush with a $919 million surplus, lawmakers enacted the largest tax cuts in state history and dramatically increased education funding during the 88-day session, the shortest in 16 years.
Lawmakers from both parties and first-term Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said the session was one of the most successful and most civil sessions in recent memory.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved almost $200 million a year in tax cuts, which included halving the 6-cent state sales tax on groceries, cutting taxes paid by manufacturers on natural gas and electricity, and providing tax credits for property owners and for low-income taxpayers. There were a few tax increases, though, including a 1 percent tax increase on beer, with the proceeds to help abused children.
Lawmakers approved a budget that added $121 million to school funding and allocated $456 million to fix dilapidated school buildings. The state Supreme Court ruled the amount was enough to end the long-running Lake View school-funding case that claimed school facilities were under-funded. Legislators also allocated $36 million for a cancer research center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
The session also was notable for bills that failed to pass. An ethics reform package that died in the Senate would have forced legislators to wait a year after leaving office before becoming lobbyists and reduced maximum individual contributions to candidates.
Another defeated bill would have banned homosexuals and unmarried couples from adopting or serving as foster parents; Beebe opposed the measure, saying it would not pass constitutional muster. Supporters say they're considering a petition to put the ban on the 2008 ballot.
Lawmakers did pass a nonbinding resolution that listed "Arkansas's" as the correct way to assign the possessive to the state.
But Gov. Bill Ritter fought tough battles over labor union reforms and control of the state budget and took heat from Republican lawmakers over property taxes. The General Assembly approved Ritter's proposal to stabilize property tax rates - rather than let them decline as previously legislated - in an effort to raise money for schools.
He also nixed sections of the budget bill that had the Legislature, instead of the governor, directing state agencies on how to spend their funding. Lawmakers overrode the veto, winning the latest round in a long-running Colorado feud between the governor and General Assembly over budget control.
New environment-friendly laws - Ritter's top priority - include a sweeping overhaul of the agency that regulates oil and gas production, an increase to 20 percent by 2020 in the share of electricity that must be produced from renewable sources such as wind and bio-fuels, and help in raising funding for transmission lines for renewable-energy projects.
In social policy, Colorado legalized adoptions by gay couples, outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, required hospitals to make emergency contraception available to rape victims and prohibited abstinence-only sex education.
Ritter signed a bill allowing Colorado's political parties to move up precinct caucuses to Feb. 5. Meanwhile, both chambers of the Legislature voted to condemn President Bush's policy in Iraq.
By executive order, Ritter also entered a multi-state pharmaceutical buying pool to provide cut-rate drugs for low-income citizens and called on state agencies to reduce energy use 20 percent by the end of fiscal 2011.
"I think everybody was learning what life is like after Jeb. … There was a tendency in the Bush era that it was 'my way or the highway,'" said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration at Florida State University. "With Gov. Crist and the legislative leadership, there's more give and take."
Two new election-related laws will have national ramifications. Florida moved up its presidential primary to Jan. 29, 2008, to give itself more influence, leapfrogging over several states that changed their primaries to Feb. 5. Crist also successfully pushed to scrap touch-screen voting machines - the subject of much controversy in congressional and presidential elections - in favor of a paper-based voting system.
The Legislature also gave Crist a property insurance plan that freezes the rates of the state-run insurer and expands its coverage to help it compete with private companies.
On the education front, Florida now will mandate 30 minutes of daily physical education for elementary school students. Crist also won approval of teacher bonuses that aren't tied to test scores, but he got only half of the $300 million he requested for the bonuses.
On crime, Crist had an immediate victory in the session's opening days with a bill that tightens restrictions for violent offenders who violate probation. Lawmakers also agreed to pay $5 million to the parents of a teenager who died in a state-run juvenile boot camp but did not approve a Crist-supported plan to pay $1.25 million to a man who was wrongly imprisoned for 24 years.
Lawmakers passed a $72 billion budget, which Crist signed after vetoing a record $459.2 million in line items, mostly legislators' pet projects. His veto of a proposed 5 percent tuition increase at Florida's colleges will cost universities and community colleges about $20 million each.
In addition to property taxes, where Crist and House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) clashed over the best way to provide cuts, the governor failed to generate action on his plan to expand coverage under KidCare, the state's health insurance program for children, his request for $20 million for adult stem cell research and his bid to fund research on an avian flu vaccine.
BACK TO TOP
Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor, said, "If this were a television show, it'd be a blank screen. There just wasn't much that was achieved."
Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) only narrowly avoided a costly special session. He initially vetoed the midyear budget, which dictated spending for the estimated $700 million left over from the previous year. The governor later rescinded that veto, though he still used a line-item veto to slash a one-time $142 million tax break for homeowners.
The budget did include $81 million for PeachCare, the state's health-insurance program for children, which almost ran out of money and in March had to stop accepting new applicants. Perdue led the governors in pushing President Bush and Congress to allot about $750 million to help State Children's Health Insurance Programs in 14 states, including PeachCare in Georgia.
Within the state, the General Assembly couldn't agree on a bill to limit PeachCare's enrollment.
On social issues, lawmakers voted to give state-funded scholarships to mentally or physically disabled children who want to attend private schools, the state's first voucher program. Georgia became the 13th state to have some sort of private school choice program.
Another new law requires physicians to offer women seeking abortions the option of viewing an ultrasound image of the fetus.
The Legislature also voted to move up its presidential primary to Feb. 5 from March 2 and overhauled cable franchising rules to make it easier for telecommunications companies such as AT&T to compete with cable.
Bills that grabbed some of the biggest headlines, but failed to pass, included ones that would have loosened payday-lender restrictions, let employees keep guns in their cars at work and allowed alcohol sales on Sunday.
BACK TO TOP
Legislators also attempted to override her veto of a bill that would have made Hawaii the second state after Maryland to cast all of its electoral votes for the popular winner of the presidential election. The state Senate voted to override Lingle's veto, but the House was unable to muster enough votes.
Notwithstanding these skirmishes, lawmakers worked with the governor to enact measures to help the poor and homeless, expand health-care coverage and promote economic development.
The state's $700 million two-year budget surplus went to increase Medicaid and other services for the poor and upgrade public school buildings. The Legislature also gave low- and moderate-income Hawaiians a variety of tax credits and a one-time tax rebate.
Lawmakers provided funding for low-income housing and homeless shelters and restored health-insurance rate regulation to make coverage more affordable. They also created a three-year project aimed at providing health insurance to thousands of children not covered by the existing state insurance program for the poor.
All Hawaiians will benefit from a 10 cents-a-gallon gasoline tax break on fuels blended with ethanol. But local airlines failed to get a promised break on fuel costs for flights within the state.
Expansion of the state's aerospace industry was boosted through tax incentives, and hunting tourism was promoted through changes in the licensing process.
Reacting to a spate of pedestrian fatalities, lawmakers approved money for improved crossing signals and increased the fines for jaywalking and driving into occupied crosswalks.
BACK TO TOP
But instead of approving one of his biggest proposals - a grocery tax credit for the poor — lawmakers handed the first-term governor a compromise, and he rejected it. Otter asked for a more than four-fold increase in the annual grocery tax credit for low-income citizens - from $20 to $90 per year. Legislators only doubled the tax credit and applied it to all Idahoans.
In another effort to help low-income residents, Otter asked for a $38 million, income-based scholarship fund. Lawmakers obliged but limited the fund to $10 million.
To aid farmers, lawmakers granted Otter's full request for $10 million to eradicate invasive weeds.
The governor also asked lawmakers to fund immediate construction of temporary prison facilities for mentally ill inmates. Instead, legislators appropriated more money to treat the mentally ill in existing prisons and approved plans to construct a permanent corrections building for the mentally ill.
Otter gave bowling alleys a break when he vetoed a measure that would have included them in the state's smoking ban, which already applies to bars and restaurants.
Daniels, who once served as President Bush's top budget official, angered much of the Indiana electorate last year by privatizing the Indiana Toll Road, which runs from Chicago to the Ohio border.
The backlash helped Democrats take control of the House in last year's elections by a two-seat margin, and lingering hostility toward privatization also explained the defeat this year of Daniels' proposals to build two new toll roads and lease the state lottery.
But this year the governor lowered his public profile and won several victories on other issues by cooperating with the House Democrats and the GOP-controlled Senate in a session that adjourned April 29.
The General Assembly softened the blow of local property taxes, which are projected to jump an average of 24 percent this year. Lawmakers decided to allow horse tracks to operate slot machines, generating revenue for $550 million in property-tax cuts.
The reductions will come after property owners have paid their bills. The checks, averaging $240, will arrive with letters explaining that the refunds come courtesy of the General Assembly. House Republicans complained the arrangement doesn't provide enough relief and comes too late.
Daniels called for all-day kindergarten throughout the state, but the measure proved too expensive. Instead, lawmakers agreed to spend $92 million more in the two-year budget to pay for grants to school districts that offer full-day programs.
The Legislature also approved of Daniels' idea to raise cigarette taxes to pay for limited health insurance for low-income residents. The extra 44 cents a pack also will fund smoking-cessation efforts.
Lawmakers also passed laws barring state funds from being invested in companies with ties to Sudan and requiring schoolchildren to study the Holocaust. It also rewrote laws governing coroners after a coroner mixed up two victims of a car crash last year.
A proposal to ask voters in 2008 whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages was bottled up in a House committee. And Daniels vetoed a measure to give tax breaks to the film industry.
Those actions fulfilled the campaign promises of Gov. Chet Culver (D) and many Democratic legislative candidates from last year. Democrats held on to the governor's mansion and won control of the Legislature in November.
Culver, a former teacher, pushed through a $250 million package designed to offer Iowa teachers more competitive pay. Under the plan, Iowa will go from having the 42nd-highest teachers salaries to the 25th highest.
The governor won passage of his signature "Iowa Power Fund," which will invest $25 million annually in alternative-energy research for the next four years. Also, Iowa's minimum wage will increase to $7.25 in January from $5.15 at the beginning of this year. And Iowa joined more than a dozen states in banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Not all of the Democratic wish list was checked off. A labor-backed bill to require non-union members to pay dues in union shops was watered down and finally died. Revision of the state's business taxes was left for later.
Republicans, meanwhile, criticized the Democrats for spending too much. They predicted the state's $6 billion budget would grow by another $1 billion in two years.
The Iowa Senate also passed a nonbinding resolution condemning President Bush's policy in Iraq.
The gambling law was signed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as the Legislature wrapped up its session, which included nearly $32 million in tax cuts, a law to outlaw protests near funerals, a proposal to expand health care for low-income residents, and additional reporting requirements for physicians who perform abortions.
Voters in select counties will now vote to approve or reject proposals to expand gaming: Up to four hotel-casinos and 2,800 slot machines at dog and race tracks are allowed under the law.
The Legislature also passed a bill to phase out the franchise tax businesses pay to do business in the state and agreed to exempt some Social Security earnings from state income taxes — measures that will cut revenues by an estimated $300 million over five years. The state's $12.5 billion budget also includes a requirement to develop a first-ever Web site for citizens to see comprehensive state government spending data, including grants and contracts.
Protesting within 150 feet of a funeral now is illegal under a law aimed at Kansas church leader Fred Phelps, who has become infamous nationwide for taunting the families of U.S. soldiers.
Legislators and the governor, who was easily re-elected to a second term in November, forged a compromise to subsidize health coverage for individuals who earn too much to receive Medicaid but still can't afford private insurance.
A last-minute compromise on the state budget requires doctors who perform late-term abortions to report what medical condition made the procedure necessary and legal under Kansas law.
During his State of the Commonwealth address, Fletcher outlined plans to spend a $400 million surplus in the state's current budget. His ideas included $25 million more in aid to college students, $50 million to shore up the state's pension systems and $4.1 million to provide a new cervical cancer vaccine to schoolgirls without health insurance. None of those plans passed.
Lawmakers balked at the idea of revising the two-year budget, and the political landscape also complicated things. House Speaker Jody Richards (D) was one of nine candidates hoping to replace Fletcher, who was indicted last year on conspiracy charges in a patronage scandal. The charges were later dropped. After the session finished, Richards lost to former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear for the Democratic nomination, while Fletcher fended off two challengers in the GOP primary.
Despite the election-year infighting, lawmakers passed a bill to provide $6 million to attract more social workers and improve their safety. The measure came as a reaction to the October slaying of a social worker killed on the job in western Kentucky.
The Legislature beefed up safety in coal mines, after 16 Kentucky miners died in 2006. The law requires more frequent inspections, more methane detectors and more medics at the mines.
Also, legislators defined human trafficking as a crime, gave Ford Motor Co. $200 million in tax breaks, raised speed limits to 70 mph on rural interstates and increased the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour by July 2009 from $5.15.
But the session ended on a sour note on March 27. A plan to restore cuts from last year's budget faltered after Senate Republicans tied the capital projects to pension reforms. Richards said the House didn't have ample time to review the pension changes, and the measure died.
Environmental issues also took center stage in Annapolis, as the General Assembly passed a bill making the state the 12th to require California's more stringent auto-emissions standards.
These were among first-term Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) legislative successes during his initial session with the Democratic-controlled Statehouse.
The governor's $30 billion budget included a record $400 million for school construction, a tuition freeze at the University of Maryland and $23 million for research into embryonic stem cells.
But lawmakers did not solve a looming $1.5 billion deficit that is projected for the next budget cycle. Tax increases are likely to be on the table during the next session as well as the question of whether the state should legalize slot machines to boost state revenue, said Roy T. Meyers, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
In addition to the clean-cars standards, the Legislature approved a bill outlawing the trapping of the diamondback terrapin, which is the state reptile and official mascot of the University of Maryland. But a fee on developers to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay failed in the state Senate.
The Senate also rejected an assault-weapons ban, a proposal to repeal the death penalty, a measure to make the children of undocumented citizens eligible for in-state college tuition and a bill that would have doubled the state's cigarette tax to extend health coverage to100,000 uninsured residents.
The Legislature also sent a letter to Congress condemning President Bush's Iraq policy.
But by the time the legislative session wrapped up on May 21, the governor had gained popularity across the state and stymied the Democrats' agenda in the Legislature. And he had accomplished two of the main goals he laid out in his State of the State address: rejecting tax increases and promoting alternative energy.
"Pawlenty cleaned the clocks of the Democrats," said Lawrence Jacobs, the director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota.
Democrats started the session with an ambitious agenda that included raising the gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects, offering health insurance for all children, rolling out all-day kindergarten across the state and delivering property-tax relief. All of those issues failed.
To pay for many of their initiatives, the Democrats proposed higher income taxes on the state's wealthiest residents, but Pawlenty vetoed the measure. That left lawmakers with far less money to fund their big-ticket items. For example, they devoted $33 million more to all-day kindergarten instead of the $320 million it would have taken to offer it statewide.
The governor's veto of a transportation package that included a nickel-a-gallon gasoline tax hike also stood, even though it passed both chambers the first time with veto-proof majorities.
Lawmakers did reach some common ground with Pawlenty: They passed a statewide smoking ban in public places, including bars and restaurants, and mandated that 25 percent of the state's energy be generated from renewable sources by 2025.
And, despite the acrimony, lawmakers wrapped up their work on time, without needing a special session, for the first time in eight years.
The governor even managed to stymie the thing he didn't want: a tax swap that would have lowered the state's highest-in-the-nation 7 percent grocery tax and increased its third-lowest-in-the-nation 18-cent cigarette tax.
A $294 million package of incentives was designed to encourage Toyota to open the state's second auto plant, which is expected to provide 2,000 new jobs. The announcement that Toyota planned to open a plant near Tupelo was made Feb. 27, and just three days later, lawmakers passed the incentives package and Barbour signed it.
Barbour also signed a bill that adds $80 million to a state-sponsored homeowners' insurance pool over the next four years, a move that should reduce premiums.
Education funding made up about 60 percent of the budget this year. The Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a funding formula that became law in 1997, received $2.5 billion, a 9 percent increase over last year. It was only the second time the program has been fully funded.
After a decade of debate, the Legislature passed a bill allowing toll roads, although only if there are alternate free roads between the toll checkpoints.
Mississippi also enacted a law that would prohibit all abortions in the state if Roe v. Wade - the 1973 Supreme Court decision ensuring abortion - is overturned. Eight other states have similar laws.
The most controversial legislation was the proposed tax swap to lower the grocery tax and raise the cigarette tax. Although Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (R) favored the bill, the threat of a veto by Barbour helped kill it. Barbour is a former tobacco company lobbyist. The defeat of the bill should provide plenty of campaign fodder for gubernatorial and legislative elections this fall.
Legislators also voted to allow the University of Mississippi Medical Center to build the state's first burn center, but they didn't allot any money for the program. Until the session's end, the Democratic-controlled House threatened to hold hostage other measures approved by the evenly divided Senate unless funding for the burn center was approved, but it eventually backed down and agreed to take up the issue next year.
The extra money for college building projects came from selling some loans from the state's Higher Education Loan Authority - a key initiative of Gov. Matt Blunt (R). But legislators rejected the governor's idea to use the funds to boost biotechnology research at the state's universities.
Show-Me lawmakers also overhauled the state's Medicaid program, with a plan to emphasize primary care and subsidize medical insurance for some low-income workers whose employers don't offer health benefits. The new health plan also allows another 20,000 minors to join the state's Children's Health Insurance Plan. But it does not restore health care for many of the 100,000 people who were cut off from Medicaid in 2005.
The Legislature also passed a bill requiring abortion clinics to qualify as surgery clinics, a move opponents fear could force most of the state's abortion clinics to close because of the costs. But a vaguely worded provision to loosen restrictions on midwives - surreptitiously added to a health-care bill - actually may allow non-physicians to perform abortions.
In the end, the Legislature approved a budget that Gov. Brian Schweitzer and his fellow Democrats hailed for its tax rebates and spending on economic development and education. A fractured Republican Party, on the other hand, decried the budget as wasteful and - on the last day of the special session - ousted the House majority leader, whom Republicans accused of holding unapproved meetings with Democrats.
Most homeowners will get what amounts to a $400 property-tax rebate. About half the state's school districts will see a further $20 million to $25 million cut in property taxes, and firms willing to invest in the development of renewable energy - a major Schweitzer talking point - will see major tax reductions as well.
Legislators approved all-day kindergarten and college tuition caps, and more than $300 million will be spent on construction projects, including an expansion of the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.
James Lopach, chairman of the political science department at the University of Montana, said Democrats proved to be "obviously more unified" than Republicans during the regular and special sessions. That, combined with a Democratic majority in the Senate and only a single-vote GOP advantage in the House, allowed Schweitzer to get "most of what he wanted," according to Lopach.
The 22 freshman senators, elected in 2006, were handed a full plate of pressing legislative business, especially the need to clear up a law passed in the previous session that divided the Omaha public school district into three smaller, racially distinct districts - countering an effort by the city's school system to take over districts in wealthier surrounding counties.
That 2006 schools law brought charges of reinstituting racial segregation, and this year the Senate fashioned a new bill that joins the Omaha and 10 surrounding school districts into a single "learning community" that will elect its own governing board and share funding.
The Legislature also agreed to $425 million of cuts in property and income taxes that Gov. Dave Heineman (R) called the largest package of tax cuts in state history. Heineman, who was elected to his first full term in November, took office in 2005, after former Gov. Mike Johanns (R) became U.S. agriculture secretary. The tax cuts included the elimination of the state's estate tax, a reduction in taxes paid by married couples and increased tax credits for investments in transportation bio-fuels, such as ethanol or bio-diesel.
With line-item vetoes, Heineman also cut nearly $24 million from the $6.8 billion state budget, including an $11 million reduction for health and human service providers and $5.3 million from special-education funds. Heineman also rejected a $19 million increase in transportation funding that would have been paid for with a 1.8-cent increase in that state's 28-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline.
In a year marked by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's run for the White House, lawmakers also approved a $250 limit on gifts for state officials and a ban on gifts and campaign contributions to the state treasurer from financial services companies.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature also enacted a ban on cockfighting, legalized medical marijuana usage under certain conditions and approved a statewide smoking ban that includes bars and restaurants during the 60-day legislative session. The new law allowing for public financing for Court of Appeals and Supreme Court candidates was approved during a March 20-30 special session.
Buoyed by oil and natural gas revenues, the Legislature passed a $5.6 billion budget that increases state spending almost 11 percent. Lawmakers approved $84 million in tax cuts, including the elimination of taxes on the salaries of active duty military and a $52 million break for low- and middle-income families. A 30 percent share of state lottery revenues will now go towards scholarships, and teachers salaries were raised by 5 percent.
A minimum wage increase will bump pay over the next two years to at least $7.50 an hour from $5.15, above a new federal rate of $7.25 approved by Congress in May but still below Santa Fe's minimum wage of $9.50.
The Legislature also passed restrictions on payday lending, the practice of making short-term, high-interest loans to people in need of cash.
New Mexico established a Renewable Energy Transmission Authority with accompanying legislation that will expand the use of clean electricity by 2020. Richardson also advanced his water agenda with passage of a $2.5 million river protection and restoration act and other measures.
But the jury is still out on whether the governor's aggressive "steamroller style" is turning off voters and preventing the kinds of open-government reforms Spitzer pledged for Albany.
"There's nothing like a knock-down, drag-out New York state budget battle to take the steam out of even the most vigorous steamroller," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said April 4 as he released findings of a new poll that showed Spitzer with a 48 percent approval rating, down from 61 percent in February.
Spitzer and Senate President Joseph L. Bruno (R) continue to butt heads over whether to limit political contributions in campaigns and to legalize gay marriage. Spitzer wants to do both. Bruno wants neither, and Democrats who control the Assembly are cool to both proposals. Spitzer also is pushing for a law shoring up a woman's right to abortion.
On education spending, Spitzer won. The $121 billion budget includes a hefty $1.8 billion in new money. It also changes the funding formula to give high-need districts a greater proportion of school aid, a major priority for the governor.
The health-care package includes $165 million over two years to extend insurance coverage to 400,000 uninsured children. Lawmakers enacted only 73 percent of the governor's $1.3 billion in Medicaid cuts he proposed for nursing homes and hospitals, a proposal that set off a bitter media war with hospitals and labor unions. However, the package does change to the way the state pays for certain medical practices using Medicaid dollars, another Spitzer proposal.
Spitzer and lawmakers also broadened last year's property tax cuts by $1.3 billion by increasing the rebates middle-income homeowners get under the School Tax Reduction program.
Beside the budget, the Legislature also passed and Spitzer signed a new workers' compensation law and a measure allowing sex offenders to be confined after they have served their prison terms.
All of that added up to a two-year $6.5 billion budget - an increase of more than 23 percent from the last biennial spending bill.
Under the property-tax plan, owners will get a 10 percent credit on their income taxes, up to $1,000, to offset property taxes. The $118.6 million package will be paid for with increased taxes on oil and gas production.
The Legislature and Hoeven also forged a landmark deal to overhaul the state's public school finance system and avoid a trial in an education funding lawsuit filed by nine school districts. The deal adds $91 million to public school coffers and makes North Dakota the only state to settle such a major school funding lawsuit out of court.
The state's university system will get $89 million more, a 21 percent increase.
Lawmakers also agreed to pump $42 million into making their state a leading source of transportation bio-fuels and tapping North Dakota's enormous potential for wind energy. The plan includes more than $13 million for ethanol production and research and another $13 million in tax credits for investors in several forms of renewable energy, such as wind, solar or geothermal power.
Lawmakers passed a bill designed to protect potential crime victims from liability if they shoot their attacker. Under another new law, abortion would be outlawed in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. Eight other states have similar laws.
Both chambers also passed nonbinding resolutions condemning President Bush's policy in Iraq.
The new law, which supporters have called the country's toughest, denies state benefits to illegal immigrants, allows police to arrest them and makes it a crime to transport or harbor them. The law also requires companies to verify that all new hires are U.S. citizens, even if they are subcontractors, and denies driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
A compromise to the legislation, however, will allow Oklahoma to continue to offer in-state college tuition and college aid to children of undocumented residents, as long as they begin the process for citizenship within a year of beginning college, said the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Randy Terrill (R).
Oklahoma also tightened restrictions on abortions with a law that prohibits the use of state funds and state-funded facilities for the procedure, with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Gov. Brad Henry (D) allowed that bill to become law without his signature, after vetoing a previous bill that did not provide the exceptions. Medical providers opposed the bill, which they say will prevent poor and uninsured women from terminating pregnancies.
Henry also vetoed the first two state budgets that the Legislature sent him before forging an agreement on a $7.1 billion spending package that includes an average $1,000 pay raise for the state's public school teachers, $20 million to start specialized drug and mental health courts and $10 million to launch a bio-energy research project.
The budget also accelerates the pace of income-tax cuts approved last year, gives a tax break to stay-at-home parents and provides a tax holiday for back-to-school shoppers.
The Legislature also expanded subsidies to help small businesses provide health insurance to their employees and give health coverage to 42,000 uninsured children.
Lawmakers from rural areas claimed the budget-cutting measure will destroy their communities, while proponents argued it is needed to meet statewide education goals.
Legislators also gave teachers a better-than-average pay raise and increased school funding. And Gov. Mike Rounds (R) won approval for increased university research funding, a top priority in his campaign to jumpstart the state's flagging economy.
South Dakota lawmakers approved $1.3 million for an optional human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination program for girls 11 to 19 years old. HPV infection is the leading cause of cervical cancer.
But after grabbing headlines last year for the most restrictive abortion ban in the country, lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a new ban. The original ban was overturned by voters last November. This year's bill would have asked voters for a second time to approve or reject a legislative ban on nearly all abortions.
Also dead-on-arrival was a proposal to ban smoking in public places. A measure to hike the minimum wage above the federal level was watered down; the final bill simply tied the state wage rate to any federal increase, which already is required under federal law.
Lawmakers considered a Massachusetts-style health-insurance plan and agreed to finance a feasibility study. The proposal - expected to come up again next year - would mandate insurance for the state's large uninsured population, currently 15 percent of the total, according to Michael Card, political science professor at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
In between the acrimony and power plays, lawmakers managed to overhaul a youth correctional system rocked by a recent sex-abuse scandal, approve new water conservation and clean air measures, and allow voters statewide to approve or reject a 10-year, $3 billion plan to research cancer cures.
Education also got a lot of attention during Texas' biennial lawmaking session, with the passage of bills requiring steroid testing for high school athletes, allowing Bible classes in some high schools and requiring new end-of-course exams for high school students.
The state's $152.5 billion budget, a 7 percent increase from two years ago, includes $145 million for college aid, $100 million to improve border security, $100 million for state parks and a similar amount to improve foster care.
Craddick's leadership, described as autocratic, was challenged even before the session began, with prominent lawmakers launching a failed attempt to gain his post. He kept his post, but the tension remained and led to dozens of legislators walking out of the chamber in the wee hours before the session's final day.
Perry, re-elected by a plurality of voters in November, also took a political beating over his executive order to require schoolgirls to be vaccinated against a virus that causes cervical cancer. Lawmakers overturned his order with a bill the governor let become law without his signature. Legislators also placed a two-year moratorium on some privately run toll roads; Perry has pursued private toll roads to boost flagging road-building funds.
One Texas lawmaker, Sen. Mario Gallegos (D), even risked his health, returning to the Statehouse after a liver transplant. A Republican colleague ordered a hospital bed, and Gallegos stayed at the Capitol to prevent a GOP majority from taking up a bill requiring voter identification. After three days, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), the Senate's presiding officer, promised Democrats that he would not bring the bill to the floor.
Unlike other voucher programs, Utah's $9.2 million plan would give every child in the state $500 to $3,000 annually to pay for private school. About a dozen other states with voucher programs limit aid to low-income students, disabled children or those who live in specific areas. But Utah's voucher law will be in limbo until the results of a Nov. 6 special election.
Voucher opponents collected enough signatures, more than 124,000, to subject the law to a statewide referendum. The ballot initiative also is being challenged in court, and the state school board has decided to wait until after the election to begin carrying out the measure.
Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) claimed a major victory in overhauling the state's tax code, winning approval of a measure to slash income, sales and food taxes and replace multiple income-tax rates with a flat 5 percent income tax starting next year.
Lawmakers also approved a second consecutive year of major increases for education spending, totaling nearly $460 million. Road and bridge repair will get a big boost as well, with an extra $1.3 billion approved in bonding for transportation projects.
The governor also signed a hotly debated bill that will require parental consent for students to join extracurricular clubs at public schools and allow public schools to refuse to allow groups to form. The law, ostensibly aimed at gay student groups, was opposed by the state Board of Education and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The war in Iraq weighed heavily on state lawmakers in Vermont, which leads the country with the most war casualties per capita. In February, the Vermont House endorsed the Iraq withdrawal measure 95-5, the Senate 24-5. And while the state Senate voted 16-9 in favor of impeachment, the lower chamber in April rejected the measure 87-60.
The governor does not sign or veto nonbinding resolutions.
On other issues, the session was dominated by three "e"s: education funding, energy and Republican Gov. James Douglas' campaign to make the state the first "e-state" with cellular and broadband coverage for electronic communication devices.
The Legislature passed all three. But the governor June 6 vetoed the energy package, and it's doubtful legislators have the votes to override the governor's rejection when they return July 11 for a special veto session. The energy bill targets global warming by offering incentives for alternative energy, but it also would essentially triple the tax the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant pays. Douglas already has said he plans to veto the measure because of that tax.
In the waning days of the session, the two sides forged a last-minute deal on education that aims to provide property-tax relief. The governor wanted an education spending cap, but agreed to a compromise in which school districts now will need separate approval from voters to spend above a certain amount.
To further Douglas' "e-state" initiative, the Legislature approved $40 million in bonds to build infrastructure to increase high-speed Internet and cell phone coverage in the state.
On social issues, Douglas signed a measure that prohibits transgender discrimination in banking, employment, education, health care, housing and public accommodations.
"Virtually no one thought it was a good piece of legislation," said John J. McGlennon, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. "But voters wanted something done on transportation, and no one wanted to go back to their districts and say they hadn't got it done." All 140 seats in the Virginia Statehouse are up for election this fall.
Kaine had wanted a statewide sales-tax increase on vehicles to help pay for the state's transportation needs. Instead the deal relies on $3 billion of bonds over 25 years and gives localities in the congested areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads the ability to raise certain taxes.
In two major defeats for Kaine, the Assembly rejected his proposal for a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and overrode his veto of legislation making the killers of judges and witnesses eligible for the death penalty. Kaine vetoed a bill that would have required state agencies to study whether Virginia should castrate violent sex offenders instead of confining them.
Virginia became the first state to express remorse for its past support of slavery.
On an issue that divided many statehouses this year, Virginia lawmakers agreed to require that middle school girls receive the new human papillomavirus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer but gave parents the OK to opt out. Other new protection for young people includes a measure barring 16- and 17-year-olds from using cell phones when driving and a mandate that children be transported in booster seats until age 8, up from 5.
On the business front, lawmakers effectively ended the deregulation of electric utilities, giving state regulators authority to adjust rates every two years. The state also put limits on the government's power to take private property by invoking eminent domain. The move was a reaction to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London , in which the justices ruled each state was responsible for setting its own rules for eminent domain.
The Democratic-led Legislature also approved measures to expand children's health care insurance, clean up Puget Sound, boost education funding by 25 percent and postpone math and science testing for graduating high school seniors.
On the environmental front, Washington agreed to spend $238 million this year on a 17-year Puget Sound cleanup project that is expected to cost $18 billion to $27 billion in public and private money by 2020.
But lawmakers did not fully fund repairs to the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Viaduct road project and refused to give the Seattle SuperSonics a requested tax break to build a new basketball arena, a move supporters say could force the team to leave the state. Republicans lost their bid for a property-tax cap. Also failing was a perennial proposal to plug a loophole that exempts background checks for purchases at gun shows.
Approving most of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire's original plan, lawmakers dipped into the state's $2.2 billion surplus to pass a $33.4 billion budget that invests in education, health care and the environment. While the Republican minority complained the budget would put the state $2 billion in the hole, Democrats said $724 million was left unspent and $134 million set aside in a "rainy day" fund.
The paid family-leave program requires employers to give all workers $250 a week for up to five weeks to care for a new child. California is the only other state with a subsidized leave program; Oregon, New York and New Jersey considered similar measures this year.
Lawmakers put off until next year a funding method for the new family-leave benefit. Also next year, some Washington lawmakers say they will push for expansion to cover care for elders, spouses, older children and the employee.
Under the new domestic-partnership law, gay couples and unmarried heterosexual couples in which one member is at least 62 years old could receive many of the benefits currently reserved for married couples, including hospital visitation and estate-transfer rights. California, Maine and Hawaii are the only other states that have established domestic-partnership registries.
On the environmental front, Washington agreed to spend $18 billion to $27 billion to clean up Puget Sound by 2020 and approved a global warming initiative similar to one in California and other states that sets targets for cutting greenhouse gases.
Other new laws make it illegal to talk on a handheld cell phone or text message while driving, require crane operators to pass safety inspections and require inmates to have a "re-entry" plan, including education and job training.
After three years of trying, lawmakers passed a bill that could bring table gaming to racetracks. Officials at the state's four racetracks can petition the county to let voters decide whether to allow table gaming.
Teachers, school service workers and corrections officers received pay raises this year, but legislators didn't. The House killed a Senate-passed bill that would have increased lawmakers' pay for the first time in 13 years to $20,000 from $15,000. Teachers considered their 3.5 percent raise insufficient and walked off the job March 14 for a one-day strike.
Legislators created a new public pension fund for the state's emergency medical service (EMS) workers and established $50,000 death benefits for the families of EMS workers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Lawmakers increased education benefits to soldiers, with Purple Heart and Medal of Honor winners getting free undergraduate college tuition, while Air and Army National Guard members will get help earning masters degrees. Should they die on duty, their families could receive college financial aid of up to $2,000 a year.
In the environmental area, the Legislature agreed to force businesses to report what they're releasing into the air. Another new law, proposed after a contractor mistakenly cut down hundreds of trees in Kanawha State Forest outside of Charleston, will require oil and gas companies to give more public notice before drilling in state forests.
Lawmakers also blocked a bill that would have created the state's largest landfill, with half of the garbage arriving from out of state and not subject to the state's tipping fee.
The Legislature voted to permanently abolish the state's food tax. A two-year repeal of the tax was already in place; however, the repeal would have expired in the summer of 2008, and the food tax would have been reinstated. Legislators also created a tax break of up to $3,000 on the value of property of veterans and their widows.
To prevent the disruption of military funerals caused by a Kansas preacher and his followers, the Legislature passed a law that criminalizes protests within 300 feet of a funeral one hour prior to or after the service.
Filmmakers who spend at least $500,000 in Wyoming are now eligible for a 15 percent reimbursement incentive that legislators approved to lure more productions to the state.
The Legislature also repealed a law that had required bikers to use roads instead of bike paths, and it increased, by 20 percent, the fee that hunters and fishermen pay for licenses.
Western wheatgrass was designated as the official state grass.