Rhode Island, Delaware And New Hampshire Legislatures Adjourn
By Bair S Walker , Senior Writer
Lawmakers in Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire gaveled their legislative sessions to a close this week, leaving just 10 state legislatures still in regular session.
New Hampshire lawmakers ended their legislative session last night after one last run at filling part of an education funding gap estimated to range from $90 million to $132 million.
The state House and Senate agreed yesterday to increase the cigarette tax by 15 cents despite the wishes of Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who pushed for a 25-cent increase.
"While I would have preferred a 25-cent increase in the cigarette tax, this increase is a step forward in meeting our school-funding obligation," Shaheen said in a written statement.
"Our work is not yet finished," the governor added. "We must still fulfill our duty to the children and communities of New Hampshire by finding the revenue to fill the gap in the education funding plan."
The school funding issue made New Hampshire's session a grueling one and caused fomented hard feelings between lawmakers. There's been talk in the Senate of holding a special summer session to focus on education funding. However, House Speaker Sonna Sytek has made it clear that the earliest the House would return is Labor Day.
New Hampshire senators have suggested implementing an income tax, capital gains tax and legalizing video poker to help plug the funding gap in the state's new public school financing plan. Each of those initiatives had been broached earlier in the session and withered on the vine due to lack of support.
On Tuesday, a pet bill of Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen -- the HMO Accountability Act -- came within a vote of passing, but was scuttled by lawmakers leery of holding HMO medical directors accountable for treatment decisions.
Rhode Island's General Assembly began its final day of business onWednesday with lofty objectives, but when the session ended, a major gun control bill had been shot down. The same fate that befell an effort to improve the Department of Environmental Management.
Irritation and frustration among members of the House was evident when only a handful of representatives applauded their leaders when the closing gavel sounded.
The gun control bill would have shifted responsibility for background checks from the police chief where the gun shop is located, to the police chief in the jurisdiction where the gun buyer resided.
An improvement of Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management had been sought because of its' occasionally lax enforcement of environmental regulations.
Political observers felt the main accomplishments of Rhode Island lawmakers were a reorganization of state traffic court and achieving a framework for state review of HMO mergers.
The specter of a special session looms over Delaware legislators who adjourned Thursday morning without deciding how to utilize the state's $350-million budget surplus, or how to structure a comprehensive tax-cut plan.
The General Assembly's inability to achieve fiscal resolution means millions of dollars for community projects may be lost and leaves the fate of the state's construction budget up in the air.
The failure to deliver sweeping tax cuts was particularly galling for some Delaware politicians because talks with Gov. Carper started well before the session began in January.
"It is nuts," an angry Republican Sen. Colin Bonini told the Associated Press. "There is no excuse for it."
But Bonini and his colleagues could draw some solace from having passed a $2 billion state operating budget Tuesday night. By mid-week, Senate and House Republicans and Democrats also arrived at a meeting of the minds on the issue of lowering Delaware's top income tax rate from 6.4 percent to 6 percent.
In Oregon, no end was in sight for lawmakers who ordinarily work for six months or until business is finished -- whichever comes first. Deliberations over the state budget have pushed adjournment from roughly the end of June to at least the second week of July, according to a spokesman in the House clerk's office.
Like their counterparts in New Hampshire, Oregon lawmakers have been preoccupied with deciding how much of their budget to earmark for education.
In South Carolina, a special session delivered victory to Gov. Jim Hodges Thursday, when lawmakers approved a plan changing how video gambling is regulated. Legislators decided to let voters decide Nov. 2 if they want to ban the $2.5 billion a year industry, fulfilling a Hodges campaign pledge.
Hodges had threatened to keep South Carolina politicians in session until they resolved the video gambling issue.
In Hawaii, plans for that state's legislature to meet in a five-day special session the first or second week of August were coalescing. Senate negotiators want the special session to focus on potentially as many as 20 bills that were either vetoed, failed or in need of greater clarification.
Hawaii representatives, on the other hand, want to the special session to focus on just two bills, including one that could save the state as much as $300,000 in interest payments, and one offering tax breaks to hotel developers.
In Illinois, where special sessions are known as a "veto sessions," dates of November 16, 17, 18 and 30 have been set aside for the legislature to meet, as well as December 1 and 2, according to House clerk's office.