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After adjourning their regular session sine die, lawmakers in Maine, above, will return in late April for a special session on unfinished business.

The Show Must Go On: Legislative Sessions Update

By Selena Saucedo | April 16, 2021 | State Legislatures News |   Print

The Louisiana Legislature convened this week, making it the 50th and final one to assemble for a regular session in 2021. While Louisiana is just getting started, 10 states—Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming—already have adjourned sine die, meaning they’ve wrapped up their regular sessions for the year.

Every year NCSL tracks when legislatures convene and adjourn, but sessions in the age of COVID have required extra careful attention. The pandemic has forced legislative operations to be nimble and flexible, and the session calendar reflects this.

In the last half of 2020, 20 states and territories met in special session, including Nevada, which is one of the four states that meets in regular session every other year. Nevada legislators were called into two special sessions last year due to the pandemic.

A handful of states—Colorado, Idaho, Missouri and Wyoming—took a break and paused their sessions in 2021 due to COVID. In Colorado’s case, the break leaned on a 2020 state Supreme Court decision that the 120-day limit on session days did not have to be consecutive calendar days.

In the first few months of 2021, some states—New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin—have already met in special session. Shortly after adjourning its regular session sine die, Maine announced that lawmakers will return in late April for a special session on unfinished business.

More Special Sessions Likely

It is highly possible other legislatures will convene special sessions before the year’s end, given this year’s landscape and increased federal funding. Lawmakers in states that have adjourned sine die but have yet to determine how they will allocate federal dollars may be called back for special sessions.

Currently, in 14 states only the governor can call the legislature into a special session. This year several of those states have tried to change that, with others making changes related to special sessions during an emergency.

At least 19 states have introduced legislation that would allow legislatures to call themselves into special session or require governors to call a special session during an emergency. In some of those states, like Idaho, a constitutional amendment would be required to give the legislature the ability to call itself into special session.

In a 2018 legislative referendum, Utah became the most recent state to give the legislature the authority to call a special session. This change allowed the legislature to meet in special sessions four times in 2020.

Selena Saucedo is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Center for Legislative Strengthening.

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