Mississippi Faces Special Session; Oregon, North Carolina Near End
By Joseph Giordono, Staff Writer
With legislators in Oregon and North Carolina working feverishly to wind up their 1999 sessions and Mississippi's governor calling back lawmakers for what promises to be a contentious special session on taxes, the count of legislatures still working remains at ten.
Mississippi's Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice has ordered state legislators to return to the capitol next Thursday to reconsider his 10 percent income tax reduction plan. The special session will force many legislators off the campaign trail, and not-so-coincidentally takes place just two weeks before statewide party primaries.
Facing a $30,000 a day price tag for the special session, many legislators have said they intend to return to the capitol and adjourn the same day. Political foes call the move by Fordice an attempt to put pressure on opponents of his tax plan just as the campaign season heats up.
Earlier this year, the Mississippi House adopted the plan, which amounted to a phased-in 10 percent reduction of income taxes. But in a stinging defeat for Fordice, the Senate never voted on the measure.
Senate opponents and public school leaders fear that the tax cut will affect funding for both education and public health programs.
California lawmakers passed a flurry of bills this week before adjourning for their monthlong summer break, among them a measure to assure baby boomers of more job security.
The bill bars employers from laying off workers age 40 and older simply to cut costs associated with their higher pay.
Another measure passed by the House and Senate gives Holocaust survivors and their heirs the right to sue World War II German corporations and their successors for using slave labor during the war.
The final days before vacation weren't without acrimony, however, as legislators fought over an additional $3 million in pork projects. Republican lawmakers squabbled with each other, while Democrats warned Governor Gray Davis to stay out of their affairs. Davis aides have reportedly asked that hearings be delayed on certain issues.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Oregon are rushing to finish work by their self-imposed deadline of midnight tonight (Friday). But barring a last second deal, the 1999 legislature is expected to adjourn without reaching agreement on a budget likely to total $11 billion.
If no deal is reached, lawmakers will have to return for a special session to decide on the $4.8 billion schools budget that Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber says is too thin, and to debate a human services budget that blocks state money for abortions and physician-assisted suicide.
In the frenzied final week of action, Oregon lawmakers have tackled both practical and somewhat bizarre business.
House Republicans backed off from a showdown with Kitzhaber over the state's tobacco settlement funds. By abandoning a plan to bring the issue's ultimate fate to state voters in a fall referendum, GOP leaders have left open the possibility of using a portion of the settlement to fund schools.
Legislators also voted to continue receiving $110 a day for personal staff and increased the Legislative Assembly's annual budget from $44.3 million to $53.7 million. The budget hike includes money for new computers and a $1.4 million appropriation to beef up legislative analysis for party leaders.
The Senate also passed a bill requiring doctors to notify parents before performing abortions on teenagers. The bill was high on the priority list of Oregon conservatives, especially House Speaker Lynn Snodgrass, but faces a likely veto from Kitzhaber.
Acting on one of the more unusual issues, the legislature banned the sale of products containing domestic dog and cat fur. They also voted to repeal a spiritual healing defense for parents who fail to provide medical treatment to children under 15.
North Carolina lawmakers, who had initially hoped to adjourn this week, continue to grind out legislation on several difficult issues. Unlike their Oregon colleagues, however, the North Carolina legislature passed a budget before the July 1 start of the fiscal year for the first time since 1979.
The most controversial issue remaining involves a plan for the state to borrow $1.2 billion for universities and community colleges. The North Carolina House voted to allow citizens to decide the issue by referendum, but Senate leaders vow to reject the plan. Instead, they have crafted a $3 billion construction and repair plan that will not be put to voters.
The debate has cause a split between Democratic Lt. Governor Dennis Wicker and his party leadersa bad sign for Wicker since he is seeking the Democratic nomination in the next gubernatorial race.