Special Session: Does it need to happen?
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rumblings of a special session in the Capitol have grown louder as the end of session has neared, and especially since the Senate dramatics have dominated most policy discussions in the last month. Contention between the House and the Senate on if and or how to fund senior services in the last days of session have also sparked rumors the legislature will meet at some point after Sine Die.
So how does a special session work?
The governor can call a special session of the General Assembly and name specific bills to debate and pass in his call for the session. This session can last for up to 60 days. The Senate President Pro Tem and House Speaker can also call a special session if they have petitions from three-fourths of their members.
The last special session on a specific issue occurred in 2013 when Nixon convened one for debate on the “Boeing bill,” a legislative effort that gave about $1.7 billion in tax credits to the aerospace company to move a factory to Missouri to build the 777X airplanes. That session lasted only one week.
Rep. Robert Cornejo said that was an example of an effective special session, namely because it did not provide a major cost to taxpayers. Estimates vary, but even without per diems for legislators, the rough figure is about $100,000 per week of special session.
Cornejo also cited the Boeing bill special session as an example where Gov. Jay Nixon also showed leadership.
“The one back in 2013 worked extremely well just because it was for a very specific issue that everybody knew about heading in,” Cornejo said. “One of the big criticisms of Gov. Nixon was that he would not engage with the legislature on issues. In that one, he came into our caucus and explained what was going on, why it was needed, and you saw us able to get it done in a pretty quick time.”
Rep. Kevin Engler, one of the longest-serving legislators, estimated Thursday that he’s served through roughly five special sessions. He agreed with Cornejo that Nixon’s 2013 special session was an example of one that was well-done specifically because it was so limited in scope. If debate is not limited, he argues it makes the process worthless.
“It can go off into tangents,” Engler said. “If you’re going to have one, which I think only a couple of subjects merit that, then we should define it to exactly what we’re here to talk about.”
Additionally, he believes if Gov. Eric Greitens has to call a special session, he should do it in ways to save funds, and there are various mechanisms to do so. For instance, Greitens could bring in a special session so it runs concurrent to veto session, and he can bring in only a small group of legislators at a given time to work on language before calling in the full body to make a final vote.
Engler, however, said that with top priorities making it to Greitens’ desk, like REAL ID and the budget, he does not see any pressing legislation that demands a special session. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty agrees, mainly because of the cost and because typically special sessions are called when time is of the essence. Boeing was looking at bids in other states when Missouri passed their legislation in 2013, and REAL ID had a Jan. 22, 2018 deadline to pass.
“We’re already in a deficit and we’re having to cut all of these programs,” Beatty said. “It does not make a whole lot of sense for us to come back into a special session for something that is not pressing.”