What’s so special about that? Special sessions explained.

Gov. Justice gives his State of the State address. The Governor is usually responsible for calling a special session and setting the agenda. WV Legislative Photography, Photo by Perry Bennett

BY TAYLOR BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BASED POLICY, THE HUB

Early each year, there’s a lot of hype about the legislative session. In general, the “regular session” takes place during January, February, and parts of March, and lasts 60 days. It gets a lot of press because most of the policy changes that are made by the WV Legislature work their way through the policymaking process during this time. But, the regular session isn’t the only time of year that policy changes can be made.

What is a Special Session? 

A “special session” of the legislature describes any time at which the legislature is called together to review and vote on policy changes not during the regular 60-day timeframe. Typically, special sessions are called by the Governor although the Legislature can call itself into a special session with a two-thirds majority vote from both chambers. Special sessions can be called at any time, and it’s routine to expect at least one special session each year or so. 

Special Session, Special Rules

For citizen lobbyists who are used to advocating on issues that they care about during regular session, there are a few differences to be aware of: 

  • Special sessions have a set agenda.

Special sessions which are called by The Governor are called so that the Legislature can review a very specific set of bills. There is an agenda that’s put forth by the Governor’s staff and no new bills except for the ones on the agenda can be introduced. The exception to this is when a special session is called by the Legislature itself. In this case, there is no set agenda, and they may introduce and review whatever legislation they choose.

  • Special sessions are short.

Most often, special sessions are very abbreviated versions of the longer regular session. While the policy review process is similar, because the agenda is much more focused, special sessions often conclude within a week or less. This is important to note because citizen lobbyists have less time to hear about special sessions, identify whether there are issues they care about on the agenda, and take action. 

Special, but Similar

While there are different rules for special sessions, some things remain the same. Legislators still conduct committee meetings where they review bills and hear testimony from expert witnesses. Bills are still brought to floor sessions to be voted on. And, perhaps most importantly, Legislators are present at the Capitol. So, if an issue you care about is on the special session agenda, you know where to find them. 

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Taylor Bennett is the Director of Community Based Policy. You can reach her at t.bennett@wvhub.org.

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