Lawmakers in at least 19 states introduced legislation last year that would allow legislatures to call themselves into special session or require governors to call a special session during an emergency. Now, three states—Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky—have measures on the November ballot that would amend state lawmakers’ ability to call themselves into special sessions.
Currently, those states are among the 14 where only the governor can call a special session after the regular session has adjourned sine die. In the other 36 states, the legislatures hold the power to call themselves into special session.
Regular legislative sessions in Arkansas, Idaho and Kentucky are limited in length and run for a specific number of days per calendar year. If the referendums pass in this year’s election, those three legislatures would gain the power to call themselves into special sessions.
The Arkansas Legislature currently meets in regular session in odd-numbered years, and in a shorter fiscal session in even-numbered years. The Legislature voted during the 2021 regular session to refer a proposed constitutional amendment to voters in the 2022 general election.
This ballot measure, if passed, would allow the Legislature to convene in an extraordinary (special) session with two-thirds of the Senate and House, or by a joint written proclamation of the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore.
The Legislature would convene a special session for the purpose stated in the proclamation for the special session and would end once that purpose has been met. Lawmakers could extend the session for up to 15 days by a two-thirds majority of both chambers.
Idaho’s proposed constitutional amendment, put on the ballot by lawmakers last year, would allow the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore to call a special session upon receiving a joint written request of at least 60% of the members of each chamber. The special session could consider only the subjects listed in the request petition.
Currently, a special session can only be called by the governor and can last a maximum of 20 days. There is no limit on the number of days a special session can last in the proposed amendment.
The proposed amendment also adds a requirement that the Legislature meet in organizational sessions commencing on the first Thursday of December after the general election unless a different day shall have been appointed by law.
The Kentucky ballot measure would remove current legislative session end dates from the state constitution. It would also allow the Legislature to extend session end dates beyond the current deadlines of 30 days for odd years (March 30) and 60 days for even years (April 15), by a three-fifths vote.
Additionally, the amendment would permit the Senate president and the House speaker to convene sessions for a maximum of 12 additional days a year and allow for recesses.
Currently, the Legislature can be in session past the 30-day and 60-day limits only if the governor calls them to take up specific legislation.
Other recent referendums on special sessions:
- In 2002, Wyoming passed two legislative referendums, one to amend the state constitution to allow the Legislature to call itself into special session. Wyoming voters also passed an amendment allowing a majority of the elected members of each chamber to convene a special session. The amendments did not affect the governor’s power to call a special session.
- In 2012, Nevada voters passed a legislative referendum to amend their constitution to allow the Legislature to convene a special session upon a petition signed by two-thirds of the members of each chamber. The referendum limits special sessions to the subject matter they were called to address and limits the duration of special sessions to 20 consecutive calendar days, except for proceedings involving impeachment, removal or expulsion from office.
- 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 lawmakers to meet in special sessions four times in 2020 during the pandemic.