State Legislature Scorecard: 21 Down, 28 Still At Work

WASHINGTON - Legislatures in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Montana and North Dakota adjourned recently, joining 12 others that previously finished their regular 1999 sessions.

Indiana politicians who pushed hard for all-day kindergarten and charter schools probably view their just-adjourned session with disappointment. Neither proposal had enough votes to pass when the Hoosier statehouse closed down this week. Gov. Frank O'Bannon has indicated he might call the lawmakers back for a special session, but says the school issues would not be revisited.

O'Bannon wants to address concerns that Indianapolis-based American United Life Insurance Co. might leave Indiana because a bill it needed wasn't passed.

In Kansas, anti-crime hardliners achieved an impressive last-minute victory before their legislature closed. They managed to significantly toughen sentencing laws, including tacking 50 years without parole onto capital murder and first-degree murder sentences.

Also ringing down the curtain were the legislatures in Hawaii, where lawmakers were accused of being underachievers, and Florida, where a historic school voucher bill was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush.

When lawmakers in the Hawaii ended their last regularly scheduled session of the millennium, little progress had been made toward revitalizing the Aloha State's economy, reforming civil service or banning fireworks, all high-profile issues.

"I think the people have to realize government can only do so much," Senate President Norman Mizuguchi told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, in what sounded like a concession.

Statehouses in Arizona, North Dakota and Colorado also sent their legislatures home in recent days, something Vermont is scheduled to do tomorrow.

Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming had adjourned previously, bringing the number of states whose regular sessions have ended to 21.

Seven more states Alaska, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas are slated to bring legislative proceedings to a close this month.

The Kentucky legislature, which meets only every other year, did not convene in 1999.

Ten state legislatures are fulltime lawmaking bodies that meet for most or all of the year. They include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The specter of being called back for a special session always hangs over legislators facing significant unfinished business when the session ends.

New Mexico lawmakers, whose regular session ended in March, found themselves starting a special session yesterday to take a pass at school vouchers.

Washington legislators will have a special session next week to resolve a dispute over how to spend $2 billion in transportation funds. No decision had been reached when Washington's regular session closed April 25.

The schools shootings in Littleton, Colorado that left 15 dead are having repercussions on some statehouse schedules. In Utah, where the regular session ended in March, Gov. Mike Leavitt is under pressure from a coalition that includes the Utah PTA to hold a special session on gun safety laws.

In a move that could delay his expected bid for the presidency, Texas Gov. George W. Bush is threatening to have a special session for the Lone Star State, which adjourns May 31, if Bush doesn't get $2 billion in tax cuts he wants.

Some state legislatures are having a hard time deciding how to allocate money from the $206-billion settlement between 46 states and the five major tobacco companies. One is Colorado, where haggling over how to spend the state's share of the settlement dominated the final hours of the 1999 session . Lawmakers eventually called it a day without reaching consensus.