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Legislative Overtime: Special Sessions Explained

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On Thursday, July 8, the state Legislature will return to Austin to begin one of multiple special sessions planned for the year.

But what is a special session? And how is it different from a regular sesion?

What is a special session?

Texas’ part-time Legislature is known for meeting relatively infrequently, especially when compared to smaller states. While many state legislatures meet year round or hold legislative sessions annually, the Texas Legislature holds its sessions every two years for 140 days. During that time, thousands of bills, of varying priority to citizens and statewide officials, are filed. The only business the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to pass, however, is a balanced biennial budget.

But what if the session ends and there is still business the governor wants to see completed? In that case, the governor is allowed to call a special session.

While bill subjects run the gambit during a regular session, a special session differs in that the only bills eligible for consideration are those on subjects chosen by the governor, or “on the call.”

Each special session may last for up to 30 days at a time. There is, however, no limit to how many special sessions the governor may call.

What are the rules?

Those who have followed a legislative session will note that much of the activity revolves around the rules, both constitutional and self-imposed. These rules stipulate how the body operates while in session. 

While a regular session is marked with many deadlines, some of those restrictions are lifted or altered during a special session.

While bills must be filed during the first 60 days of the regular session, there is no such deadline during a special session.

During a regular session, legislation can be “prefiled” starting the Monday after the November general election. During

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