Special Sessions

3/9/2020

There are two main types of legislative sessions—regular and special (sometimes known as extraordinary). A regular session is the annual or biennial gathering of legislators, the starting date (and often, the length) of which is set by constitution or statute.

Unlike regular sessions, there is no specific timing for special (or extraordinary) sessions. They occur intermittently to deal with the specific issues or topics.  Usually, the scope of a special session—that is, the topics that may be taken up—is limited to the issues specified in the notice calling for the special session.

There are no limits on the number of special session that may be called. Many factors can influence the number of special legislative sessions that occur in any year, including court decisions; federal government actions; length of or scope limits on regular legislative sessions; length or scope limits on special sessions; natural or other disasters; party control of the legislature and governor's office; political culture of the state; redistricting; or state economy.

A special or extraordinary session is called either by the governor or the legislature. Who has the ability varies among the states.  

In 14 states, only the governor may call a special session.

Only Governor Can Call Special Session
Alabama Indiana Mississippi Texas
Arkansas Kentucky North Dakota Vermont
California Michigan Rhode Island  
Idaho Minnesota South Carolina  

 

In 36 states, a special session may be called by either the governor or the legislature.

Special Session Can Be Called by Governor or Legislature
Alaska Iowa Nevada Pennsylvania
Arizona Kansas New Hampshire South Dakota
Colorado Louisiana New Jersey Tennessee
Connecticut Maine New Mexico Utah
Delaware Maryland New York Virginia
Florida Massachusetts North Carolina Washington
Georgia Missouri Ohio West Virginia
Hawaii Montana Oklahoma Wisconsin
Illinois Nebraska Oregon Wyoming
 

How do legislatures call special sessions? Below is a summary of their processes.

Special Session Process
STATE DESCRIPTION OF THE PROCESS
Alaska If two-thirds of the membership responds in the affirmative to a poll conducted by the presiding officer of each house.
Arizona Upon presentation to the governor of a petition signed by not less than two-thirds of the members of each house.
Colorado By written request of two-thirds of the members of each house to the presiding officer of each house.
Connecticut 1) Upon presentation to the secretary of state of a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each house or 2) by joint call of the presiding officers of both houses.
Delaware By mutual call of the presiding officers of both houses.
Florida 1) Upon the filing with the Department of State of a joint proclamation by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House or 2) if three-fifths of the members of both houses respond affirmatively to a poll by the Department of State—the poll being initiated by certificates from 20 percent of the members of the Legislature.
Georgia Upon presentation to the governor of a petition signed by three-fifths of the members of each house, with a copy to the secretary of state.
Hawaii By written request of two-thirds of the members of each house to the presiding officer of each house.
Illinois Upon the filing with the secretary of state of a joint proclamation by the presiding officers of both houses.
Iowa By written request of two-thirds of the members of each house to the presiding officer of each house.
Kansas Upon presentation to the governor of a petition signed by at least two-thirds of the members elected to each house.
Louisiana By written petition of a majority of the members elected to each house to the presiding officers of both houses
Maine On the call of the president of the Senate and speaker of the House, with the consent of a majority of the members of the Legislature of each political party, all members having been first polled.
Maryland Upon presentation to the governor of a petition signed by a majority of the members elected to the Senate and to the House of Delegates.
Massachusetts Upon presentation to the clerk of the respective chamber of written statements of—and subsequent vote of—21 members of the Senate and 81 members of the House of Representatives 
Missouri By joint proclamation of the president pro tem of the Senate and the speaker of the House, upon filing with the secretary of state a petition signed by three-fourths of the members of the Senate and House.
Montana At the written request of a majority of the members.
Nebraska By proclamation of the governor, upon filing with the secretary of state a petition signed by 10 or more members of the Legislature and a subsequent poll by the secretary of state approved by two-thirds or more of the members. 
Nevada By petition signed by two-thirds od the members of both the Senate and Assembly.
New Hampshire By a two-thirds vote (or petition) of the qualified members of each branch of the General Court.
New Jersey By proclamation of the governor, upon petition of a majority of the members of each house.
New Mexico By proclamation of the governor, upon petition of three-fifths of the members elected to each house.
New York By petition of two-thirds of the members of each house to the Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House.
North Carolina By joint proclamation of the president of the Senate and speaker of the House, upon written request by three-fifths of the members of each house.
Ohio By joint proclamation of the presiding officers of the General Assembly.
Oklahoma By joint order of the Senate president pro tem and the speaker of the House, upon written request of two-thirds of the members of each chamber.
Oregon By the presiding officers of both houses, upon written request of a majority of the members of each chamber.
Pennsylvania By the governor, upon petition of a majority of the members elected to each house.
South Dakota By the presiding officers of both houses upon the written request of two-thirds of the members of each house. The petition of request shall state the purposes of the session, and only business encompassed by those purposes may be transacted.
Tennessee By the presiding officers of both houses, upon written request of two-thirds of the members of each chamber.
Utah By the presiding officers of both houses, upon poll of members, to which two-thirds of the members of each chamber are in favor because in their opinion a persistent fiscal crisis, war, natural disaster or emergency in the affairs of the state necessitate the convening.
Virginia By the governor, upon the application of two-thirds of the members elected to each house.
Washington By resolution of the Legislature, upon affirmative vote (or poll) of two-thirds of the members elected or appointed thereto.
West Virginia By proclamation of the governor, upon the application of three-fifths of the members elected to each house.
Wisconsin 1) At the direction of a majority of the members of the committee on organization in each house; 2) by the adoption of and concurrence in a joint resolution on the approval by a majority of the members elected to each house; or 3) by the joint petition of a majority of the members elected to each house submitted to, and using a form approved by, the Senate chief clerk and the Assembly chief clerk.
Wyoming 1) Upon written request to the presiding officer of each house of the Legislature by a majority of the elected members of each house; or 2) the presiding officers of each house shall also jointly call a special session for the purpose of resolving a challenge or a dispute of any kind in the determination of the presidential electors.