Texas joins growing ranks of states resorting to special sessions

Published 12:07 pm, Friday, June 16, 2017

Special sessions are becoming commonplace for legislatures nationwide.

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was calling the Texas Legislature back for a 30-day special session next month to take up a long list of unfinished business, he was following a trend.

Since April, governors in Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana and Florida have all called their legislature’s back into special sessions to take up everything from uncompleted budgets, abortion legislation, Medicaid reforms and job incentive programs. At least 12 governors besides Abbott have called special sessions in just the last 8 weeks. That doesn’t count Wisconsin and Kentucky, where governors forced special sessions earlier in the year.

And it cuts across party lines. Republican and Democratic governors are calling legislatures back in regardless of which parties dominate the Legislature. 

In many cases, like in New Mexico and Louisiana states are simply struggling to pass budgets on time, said University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus. But in many other cases like in Texas and Florida, governors are using the call for special sessions as much to make a political statement.

“It reinforces the idea that the bully pulpit resides with the executive branch,” MacManus said.

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Abbott ordered the Legislature back for a special session July 18 to take up a list of conservative Republican issues, from a bathroom bill and property tax reforms to new abortion restrictions and school choice. Many have seen it as a political move to assert his credentials with conservatives at a time Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been staking out positions on many of those issues.

States where special sessions have been called since the end of April: Texas, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Washington, West Virginia. Wisconsin and Kentucky held special sessions earlier in the year. States like Alabama, North Dakota and Nevada had special sessions last year.

The biggest downside for governors politically is the potential costs of the special sessions, MacManus said. In Texas, its estimated the 30-special session could cost taxpayers at least $800,000 if lawmakers stay for the full period of time.


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