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Special vs. extraordinary session: What’s the difference?

  

Gov. Mike Parson called the General Assembly back to Jefferson City for the second extra legislative session of 2020, this time to pass a supplemental budget using federal coronavirus relief funds.

COVID-19 has had an overwhelming impact on our state, and while we have made great progress, this additional funding will be critical as we continue to respond and work through the recovery process,” Parson said. “We look forward to working with the General Assembly to make sure these funds are distributed across Missouri as soon as possible.” 

While additional legislative sessions are often referred to as “special sessions,” even by the governor himself, the official journals of the General Assembly refer to certain ones as “extraordinary sessions.” Here’s a look at why the terms are not as interchangeable as many may think.

An extraordinary session is a session called by the governor, designed to address a specific topic — such as violent crime or the supplemental budget, the focal points of this year’s additional sessions. In an extraordinary session, the governor recalls the legislature through a proclamation based around the central topic, which the General Assembly is required to adhere to. 

The Missouri Constitution allows the governor to call an extraordinary session over any matter he deems “necessary and expedient.” Extraordinary sessions are common in Missouri: 14 have been called since 2000, focusing on everything from economic development in 2010 to abortion facility regulation in 2017.

While the umbrella term of “special session” is commonly used to refer to both types of additional assemblies, a true special session is one controlled by the legislature. 

Three-fourths of both legislative bodies — 123 of the 163 House members and 26 of the 34 senators — must sign onto a petition in order to call a special session. The petition would then be submitted to the Secretary of State before the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate jointly recall the bodies to Jefferson City. 

A special session has similar restrictions: The action is limited to the scope of the session. The General Assembly would automatically adjourn 30 calendar days after the issuing of the call. 

A true special session has only been called once in Missouri. In 2018, members of the legislature called a special session to consider impeachment proceedings against then-Gov. Eric Greitens following investigations into campaign finance issues and alleged blackmail, among other issues. 

“In the 30 years since Missourians granted the General Assembly the constitutional authority to call itself into special session, it has never before exercised that power,” said then-House Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty at the time. “Given the high threshold for lawmaker support required, successfully doing so was long considered all but impossible.”

The special session ended when Greitens ultimately resigned two weeks into the proceedings. 

Missouri is one of 36 states in which both the governor and the legislature can make the call for an additional legislative session. 

The option was created by the 1988 Missouri Legislative Sessions Amendment.