Stateline Story

Fall Brings Special Sessions, Elections

  • September 02, 2003
  • By Kathleen Murphy

Statehouse news junkies are living for the Oct. 7 California gubernatorial recall election, but budget issues, school funding and foster care also will make headlines this fall because some legislatures are still at work.

California, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania lawmakers are still in session.

Nine other states' upcoming special sessions will mean closer looks at issues such as sales taxes and workers' compensation, said Joan Barilla of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a nonpartisan organization that monitors state government and gathers information about state policies.

  • Alabama's special session on budget issues starts Sept. 10, the day after a statewide referendum on taxes. 
  • Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) set a special session for Dec. 8 on education reform. 
  • Connecticut legislators plan a special session Sept. 3 on school construction costs and may also consider prison overcrowding. 
  • Florida has seen four special sessions this year on medical malpractice, and another session is expected in October to consider abortion and environmental issues. 
  • Missouri lawmakers plan a Sept. 10 session to consider an override of Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's veto of foster care system reform. 
  • New Hampshire lawmakers will look at budget issues starting Sept. 4. 
  • New Mexico lawmakers will convene Oct. 27 to debate taxes, such as whether to raise taxes on vehicle sales or collect Internet sales taxes. 
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is expected to bring lawmakers back to work because they adjourned from a 30-day special session Aug. 26 without passing a congressional redistricting bill. Eleven Democratic senators went to Albuquerque, N.M. to protest plans to take up the remap legislation. Action on the bill requires two-thirds of the members be present, and the members denied a quorum. 
  • Utah lawmakers are taking up workers' compensation issues in a special session starting Oct. 30.

Lawmakers in all 50 states have convened this year, but session length varies.

Special sessions are becoming more common every year, Barilla said. Eighteen statesAlabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin-- already have held special sessions this year to take care of unfinished business.

Most state lawmakers can blame fiscal issues for keeping them at work. Oregon's budget session, which concluded Aug. 27, was the state's longest ever.

"The main thing that's going to be done in the next few months in states is a constant evaluation of the budget. States will be looking at their budget and making sure they're still on target," said Gene Rose, director of public affairs for NCSL.

Fall also means election season, and the spotlight has gone to whether California voters will oust Gov. Gray Davis (D) from office, and if so, who his successor should be. Superstar and political novice Arnold Schwarzenegger entered the race with several prominent Republicans, and the ballot includes Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

Governors' races also will bring voters to the ballot box Nov. 4 in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi:

  • In Kentucky, Attorney General Ben Chandler (D), and U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R) hope to succeed term-limited Gov. Paul Patton (D), who leaves office amid an ethics scandal.
  • Louisiana's Oct. 4 state gubernatorial primary features 18 candidates, including the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, a former Bush administration official and an ex-governor, who are vying to replace term-limited Gov. Mike Foster (R). 
  • Mississippi incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) is squaring-off Nov. 4 against Haley Barbour, a Washington, D.C., Republican power broker.

New Jersey and Virginia voters will elect new state lawmakers Nov. 4. Statewide elections also are planned in Maine, Texas and Alabama:

Maine voters will consider a long-term borrowing package for transportation, education and environmental projects Nov. 4.

Texas voters will consider constitutional amendments on issues such as medical malpractice caps and transportation projects in a statewide election Sept. 13.

Alabama's statewide referendum Sept. 9 will decide the fate of Republican Gov. Bob Riley's $1.2 billion tax package that would direct revenue to schools and college scholarships.

"Very few states have passed tax increase initiatives, and it will be interesting to see if the people of that state will come alongside Bob Riley or vote to make more spending cuts," said Chris Atkins, director of tax and fiscal policy for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that promotes limited government and devises model legislation.