State Legislative Tracker: Battle lines drawn on gay marriage, "personhood" bills

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February 20, 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka

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This week's tracker features an update from ongoing sessions in New Jersey, Washington, Minnesota, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and Oklahoma.


This week 43 out of 50 state legislatures are meeting in regular session. No states are scheduled to convene or adjourn this week

One state has adjourned for the year, while four states - Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Texas - will not hold regular sessions in 2012.

Current sessions capture for the week of February 20, 2012

Regular sessions

See also: Dates of 2012 state legislative sessions

The following states convened their regular legislative sessions:

The following states have ended their regular session:

Click here to see a chart of each state's 2012 session information.

Special sessions

Special sessions were a widespread occurrence in the state legislatures in 2011, in particular due to the necessity of states to conduct the redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts. Overall, in 2011 there were 45 special sessions in 28 states.

Thus far, North Carolina is the only state to have held special sessions in 2012.

Snapshot of State Legislatures:
Monday, February 20, 2012
There are 7,384 Total State Legislators
Total Democratic state legislators 3,301 (44.7%)
Total Republican state legislators 3,971 (53.8%)
There are 99 Total State Legislative Chambers
Total Democratic Party-controlled chambers 36
Total Republican Party-controlled chambers 59
Total tied or nonpartisan chambers 4
2012 Session Information
Total Special Elections 7
Total Special Sessions 2

In recess

As of today, February 20, 1 states' session is currently in mid-term recess:

Issues spotlight

With legislative sessions in full swing in most states, here are some topics making headlines last week:

Gay marriage

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D) signed a bill into law last Monday that makes her state the seventh in the country to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. The law is set to take effect on June 7, but opponents are ready to fight, filing Referendum 74. They would need to gather over 120,577 valid signatures in order to put the law on hold. If successful a vote would then take place in November.[2] Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) vetoed a similar piece of legislation on Friday, the day after it was passed by the Assembly. In a statement Christie said, "I am adhering to what I've said since this bill was first introduced -- an issue of this magnitude and importance, which requires a constitutional amendment, should be left to the people of New Jersey to decide."[3]

The Maryland Senate is expected to take up a gay marriage bill this week. It narrowly passed the House by a vote of 72-67 last week.[4]

Job creation

Minnesota Sen. Chris Gerlach (R) and Rep. Keith Downey (R) announced a plan to loosen restrictions on state licensing requirements that they say could create up to 15,000 jobs. In their bill, entrepreneurs would be able to pursue a job or career without a state license as long as it does not pose a threat to public health or safety, such as a barbers, masseuses and tree trimmers. The cost and time to meet current regulations, they say, hampers individuals and small businesses.[5]

Private prisons

In a rebuke to the Republican leaders of the Florida State Senate, nine GOP senators joined Democrats in voting against a plan to create private prisons that was a high priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos. The plan, which aimed to replace a similar one struck down last year for being unconstitutional, would have been the largest privatization of prisons in the country. It was voted down 21-19.[6] The issue is not over, however, as Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he is exploring how he can unilaterally privatize prisons.[7]

Drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R) watched as the state legislature ended its session by rejecting a bill that would have repealed the law allowing drivers licenses to be issued to people without Social Security numbers. It was the third time she has tried to undo the law. The bill was initially passed by the House but defeated in the Senate. The Senate instead passed a measure shortening how long the licenses are valid and imposing harsher penalties on those committing fraud.[8]


Last Tuesday the Virginia House of Delegates passed a "personhood" bill that would give unborn children from the point of conception the same rights as others "subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the Commonwealth." It now goes to the Senate.[9]

The following day the Republican-led Oklahoma State Senate passed the "Personhood Act" by a vote of 34-8. Under the bill the word person under state law would include unborn children from the moment of conception. It now goes on to the House.[10]


See also: State legislative elections, 2012 and State legislative elections results, 2012
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A total of 86 of the 99 chambers will hold state legislative elections on November 6, 2012.

1,267 (64.3%) of the country's 1,971 state senate seats are up for re-election in November 2012, and 4,712 (87.05%) of the country's 5,413 state house seats are up for re-election. Altogether, 5,984 (81.0%) of the country's 7,384 state legislative seats will be up for re-election during the presidential election year.

  • 43 of the 50 state senates are holding elections.
  • 43 of the 49 state houses are holding elections.

The 5,984 seats up for election is 146 fewer than the 6,125 that were contested in 2010.

Filing deadlines

See also: Signature requirements and deadlines for 2012 state government elections

This week there are no states with signature filing deadlines for candidates running for election. So far, deadlines have passed in eight states - Illinois, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Nebraska (incumbents only) and Pennsylvania.

States with upcoming deadlines:


Texas had an initial filing deadline of December 19, 2011, but with the newly drawn state legislative maps being fought in the courts, the districts remain uncertain. The filing process was expected to re-open on February 1, but that date has now been thrown out and a new date has yet to be settled on.[11]


Last Wednesday the Missouri State Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would push back the candidate filing period. Currently, candidates can file for office between February 28-March 27; the bill would change that to March 24-April 27. The move is due to delays in the redistricting process following the Missouri Supreme Court's decision to throw out the new Senate districts earlier this year.[12]


See also: 2012 election dates

The first state legislative primary elections of 2012 are scheduled to take place in March. Those dates are as follows:

Note: Texas was originally scheduled to hold their primary on March 6. However, with newly drawn state legislative maps being fought in the courts, the date has been delayed.


The Texas primary was originally delayed from March 6 to April 3, but with that date now looking highly unlikely, party officials are discussing dates in May -- with May 29 as the early frontrunner.[13] Last Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered the state and minority rights groups to agree on a map for the state Senate and bring it to court. Judge Xavier Rodriguez suggested June 26 for the primaries, as it would ensure enough time to decide any issues related to the Voting Rights Act. Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, took exception to the suggestion, stating, “That’s asking me if I want to be shot in the stomach or the head. I’d rather be shot in the stomach, which would be May."[14]


Currently, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. Between 1913 and 2008, there were just 20 state legislative recall elections in five states. Of the 20 state legislative recall elections, 13 out of 20 resulted in the state legislator being recalled. In 2011, there were 11 state legislative recalls in three states, 4 of which resulted in the legislator being recalled.


2011 saw a wave of recall attempts in Michigan. While most of those efforts dried up, at least three campaigns are continuing on (the recall of Paul Scott was successful on November 8, 2011). Organizers of the campaigns to recall Bruce Caswell (R) and Phil Pavlov (R) are aiming for the August 2012 ballot.


Democrats in Wisconsin filed recall petitions on November 15, 2011 against four Republican state senators - Pam Galloway, Scott Fitzgerald, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard.[15] Campaign organizers turned in more than the necessary number of signatures in each of the four races on January 17, 2012.

On February 9, all four senators for recall submitted signatures challenges, but Scott Fitzgerald (R) was the only one to challenge enough individual signatures that, if they were found to be invalid, would end the recall threat. This past week the recall committees submitted rebuttals to the challenges, stating that they "are overwhelmingly baseless."[16] The main argument for the senators rests on a challenge to the size and shape of their districts. Through the once-a-decade redistricting process, the Republican majority drew up and quickly passed new districts last year. Under the legislation, the maps do not take effect until this fall, but Republicans are now arguing that the recalls should take place in the new districts.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board previously rejected the argument and a federal trial regarding the matter is scheduled to begin tomorrow. If it is decided that the recalls should take place in the new districts, then, according to Republicans, enough of the signatures would be thrown out as to end all the recalls as they came from residents who live in the old districts but not the new ones.[17]

GAB has until March 19 to schedule recall elections.

Special elections

See also: State legislative special elections, 2012

This week one special election takes place in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Hillsborough District 10

Michael Brunelle (D) resigned to take a job with the Pennsylvania Service Employees International Union (SEIU).[18][19]

Democratic Party Democratic Candidate:
Republican Party Republican Candidates:

Looking ahead

Upcoming special elections include:

  • February 21: New Hampshire House of Representatives Hillsborough District 10
  • February 28: Michigan House of Representatives District 29
  • February 28: Michigan House of Representatives District 51
  • March 20: New York Assembly District 93
  • March 20: New York Assembly District 100
  • March 20: New York Assembly District 103
  • March 20: New York Assembly District 145
  • March 20: New York Senate District 27
  • April 3: Oklahoma House of Representatives District 71
  • April 3: Oklahoma Senate District 20

See also


  1. StateScape, Session schedules," accessed February 13, 2012
  2. New York Times, "Washington Governor Signs Gay Marriage Bill," February 13, 2012
  3. FOX News, "Christie follows through on promise to veto gay marriage bill," February 18, 2012
  4. CBS News, "Maryland House passes gay marriage bill," February 17, 2012
  5. CBS Minnesota, "MN Lawmakers’ Bill Would Soften Business Licensing," February 13, 2012
  6. Palm Beach Post, "Prison privatization proposal failure stings Fla. Senate President Mike Haridopolos," February 19, 2012
  7. Jacksonville Times, "Kill prison privatization? Not so fast, Scott says," February 19, 2012
  8. Latin American Herald Tribune, "Undocumented New Mexicans Can Still Get Driver’s Licenses," February 19, 2012
  9. CNN, "Virginia's "personhood" bill is latest front in the culture war," February 19, 2012
  10. Reuters, "Anti-abortion "personhood" bill clears Oklahoma senate," February 16, 2012
  11. Ballot Access, "U.S. District Court Suspends Some Texas Election Deadlines," January 27, 2012
  12. News-Leader, "Senate approves bill to push back candidate filing deadline," February 16, 2012
  13. Austin American-Statesman, "Prepare for primaries in late May, judge signals," February 15, 2012
  14., "Unsettled Texas primary may slip into May or later," February 15, 2012
  15. FOX 6 Now, "Recall paperwork filed Tuesday for four senators, including Van Wanggaard," November 15, 2011
  16. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Recall Committees' Brief in Opposition to Written Challenges," February 13, 2012
  17. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Senators facing possible recall challenge size, shape of districts," February 10, 2012
  18. NH Insider, "Democratic Leader Mike Brunelle Leaving New Hampshire for Pennsylvania," July 6, 2011
  19. New Hampshire Union Leader, "Special election today for Ward 3 House seat in Manchester," December 20, 2011