WASHINGTON - As the summer heats up, two more legislatures -- Alabama and Connecticut -- finished their 1999 sessions, leaving just 15 still at work.
Alabama lawmakers agreed to let the voters decide if the state should sponsor a lottery and finally approved legislation that requires all drivers to have auto liability insurance. Two hundred more teachers will staff the state's public schools and at least $20 million will go back home with lawmakers for new or fatter special projects -- half of which will go to public education.
For the fifth year in a row Connecticut has balanced their budget, cut taxes and created surpluses -- some of which will be returned to taxpayers as rebates. State legislators also banned racial profiling, tightened gun regulations, improved the state's witness protection system, set statewide guidelines for police pursuits and froze tuition at state colleges and universities.
An 11th hour drive by Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman to require all motorists to buy liability insurance was considered the most dramatic event Wednesday -- the last day of Alabama's 1999 session. Alabama was one of just six states that did not require auto insurance. Alfa Insurance, an influential auto insurer in the state and a big contributor to the governor's campaign opponent, former Gov. Fob James, vehemently opposed the measure.
The legislature also passed state budgets for next year that give lawmakers $20 million to take home to their districts. Of that, $10 million will be split among the 140 legislators to spend on public education -- double what they got last year. Also included are millions for job training programs, roads and recreation.
To check up on teachers who may have shady pasts, Alabama legislators passed a measure that will require background checks on prospective teachers and support personnel, including those at private and church-based schools. Current school employees will only receive background checks if school officials have "a reasonable suspicion" of a problem, The Birmingham News reported.
Connecticut also ended their 1999 session on Wednesday, and in Gov. John G. Rowland's end-of-session speech Thursday morning he applauded the state's legislature for being "a model for the nation."
"You've shown the rest of the country what can be accomplished when a legislature puts partisanship aside and focuses on improving the quality of life for the citizens of the state.... Few state legislatures in this country have been able to show the kind of fiscal discipline we've come to expect from ourselves," Rowland said.
Although Connecticut lawmakers balanced the budget, cut taxes, created surpluses and passed important crime, education and health insurance measures, their work is not yet finished. Some bills to implement policies in the state budget were not passed before Wednesday's midnight deadline so a special session is scheduled to begin Monday.
The Connecticut House and Senate on near-unanimous votes approved a $23.78 billion, two-year state budget that increases aid to schools, boosts help for the mentally retarded and abused children, expands health care for poor adults and freezes public college tuition. The budget also allows a $550 million tax surplus to be returned to most adults in the form of $50 tax rebates.
A total of $273 million in tax cuts passed with unanimous votes. The current $350 property tax credit will grow to $500 in the next two years. Tax cuts were also approved for hospitals, home improvement projects, Social Security income and single taxpayers.
On the last day of the session a managed care bill passed both houses that sets up a registry of doctors' histories, speeds up the claims and appeals process, requires parity of coverage for mental illnesses and bans the sale of medical information.
Rowland signed into law the "pill bill," which requires insurance companies to cover the cost of prescription birth control.
A bill prohibiting "racial profiling" was passed, which prohibits police from pulling over minority drivers who are not breaking any laws. Legislators also passed a bill on police pursuits that requires police officers to notify their supervisors when they start high-speed chases.
Connecticut's "Megan's Law" was revamped to allow courts to withhold disclosure of sexual assault convictions in incest cases or others where identification of the assailant could reveal the name of the victim. The bill also requires registry of new state residents with a previous conviction for a serious sexual offense.
The House and Senate-passed gun bill would allow police to seize guns from people who are a danger to themselves or others. It also regulates the sale of guns at department stores and makes people liable for giving guns to people who are barred by law from having them.
Failed bills include a measure to ban banks from charging noncustomers fees to use their ATM machines; a bill to have public financing of campaigns with spending limits; and a hunting regulation bill that, among other things, would have ended all hunting at sunset except for possums and raccoons.