Report

Gavels and Gags: State Legislatures Adjourn

  • June 24, 2008
  • By Daniel Petty

Alabama state Rep. Ken Guin's (D) nutrition bill was dead from the start.

So dead, in fact, that he won the Legislature's "shroud" award, a gag honor that for three decades has marked the end of the session for lawmakers in Montgomery.

Alabama and many other states conclude their sessions with traditions that are funny, bizarre and even poignant. With half of state legislatures concluding in the past two months, and several more to adjourn within a few weeks, the celebrations are in full swing.

Guin garnered his ghastly gift for a bill that would have required schools to submit lunch menus to a Department of Education nutritionist for review. The Legislature adopted a House resolution declaring that, of all the bills proposed this session, his stood the least chance of getting passed. It was doomed after school superintendents voiced their opposition.

On the last day of the legislative session next door in Mississippi, a Mississippi State University lobbyist places tomato seedlings on the desks of legislators, staff members and sometimes Statehouse reporters. The tradition started several decades ago after university researchers engineered a robust tomato plant capable of traveling well. Proud of their development, they sent some to the Capitol, where the tomatoes were a hit.

Legislatures are notorious for not finishing on time. Lawmakers in Alabama, California, Illinois and South Carolina, among others, have literally stopped the clock at midnight to buy time for unresolved issues. South Carolina's Senate has been known to send the sergeant-at-arms to the third floor gallery, wielding a broom, to reach up and turn back the clock hands. Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia practiced the same kind of time management until courts ruled it unconstitutional.

Legislatures in Florida, North Carolina and Washington state hold handkerchief-dropping ceremonies for adjourning sine die, a Latin term meaning "without day," that ends a body's formal gathering.

Read more about closing day antics in legislatures around the nation at stateline.org.