Oregon Lawmakers Finally Adjourn, Others Also Call It Quits
By Bair S Walker , Senior Writer
Oregon lawmakers adjourned their third-longest session in history on Saturday, and their Mississippi counterparts opted for the briefest of special sessions instead of a gabfest when they answered the governor's call to return to Jackson last week.
Elsewhere on the state political scene, North Carolina lawmakers ended work last week with an alacrity unusual in recent years, leaving eight legislatures that have yet to finish regular business.
The Oregon legislature's 195 days of work was often marked by sharp and sometimes bitter differences between majority Republicans and Democrats and their leader, Gov. John Kitzhaber.
But, the session produced landmark bills to deregulate the telecommunications and electric power industries and create publicly financed charter schools with less regulation.
Kitzhaber's effort to boost the Republicans' $4.811 billion budget for schools failed in the end. But he was able to succeed in getting his $57 million youth crime prevention package approved that he proposed after last year's shootings at Thurston High School in Springfield.
Across-the-board tax cut efforts also failed, but Republicans managed to send a $250 million income tax reduction to the November 2000 ballot.
The roughly $11 billion budget that emerged for 1999-2001 is an increase of 15 percent. Although balanced in this biennium, it is expected to leave the state $500 million short in 2001-03, said Mike Stinson, legislative fiscal officer.
Lawmakers on the final day boosted the Legislature's own budget by more than 21 percent. And Republicans protected $150 million in tax refunds that are due out in December, reported The Oregonian 's Steve Suo.
The legislature completed action on a proposed initiative last Wednesday that would ask voters for permission to put the state's tobacco settlement in a health care trust fund.
The legislature also sent Kitzhaber legislation that would bar cities and counties from suing gun manufacturers to recover the costs of gun-related violence. It states that the state attorney general couldn't file a lawsuit without the legislature's permission. Kitzhaber has indicated he will veto the bill.
On the last day of the session a debate broke out as the Senate approved a rewritten, $2.2 billion Department of Human Resources budget that restored about $18 million in Republican cuts and included money for Oregon Health Plan coverage of abortion and doctor-assisted suicide. It was a victory for Kitzhaber, who said the Legislature shouldn't be deciding what medical procedures the health plan covers.
Partisan bickering aside, during their down time legislators played guitar on Saturday, fired rubber bands at one another and grew sentimental as they reflected on the last day of action by 22 colleagues who won't be returning because a last-ditch plan to loosen voter-approved term limits fizzled.
Mississippi lawmakers returned to Jackson on July 22 for a special session called by Gov. Kirk Fordice, who wanted them to act on his plan for a 10 percent income tax cut. The House passed the plan overwhelmingly earlier this year, but it died in the Senate.
On the eve of the special session, Fordice added two more issues to the agenda of the $30,000-a-day gathering: school safety and economic development. But giving the governor a political dissing, the Mississippi House cast only one vote -- to adjourn -- and the state Senate was out the door right behind them.
After about 100 days and 2,300 votes, North Carolina legislators passed some important proposals before they adjourned on July 21. They passed a budget before the start of the state's new fiscal year on July 1, gave teachers an average 7 percent pay raise, sent millions to state schools, promised billions from the national tobacco settlement to farmers and health groups and passed tougher controls on pollution.
But a plate full of issues awaits lawmakers when they return next May 8. They did not vote on a state lottery, find a way to help the state's universities meet $7 billion in construction needs or respond to counties' clamor for new local taxes.
Anna Griffin and Stephanie Gibbs of The Charlotte Observer report that North Carolina lawmakers must also address term and session limits, more teachers' raises and environmental rules -- all potentially incendiary issues at the polls next year.