Setting Records for Legislative “Extraordinary” Sessions

At seven, the California Legislature has a record number of special sessions this year.

The previous record was five during one two-year legislative session and, now with the special session on water, lawmakers are at seven –in just this year alone.

These “Extraordinary sessions,” as they’re known, are called by the governor to focus legislative attention on a particular issue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has employed them frequently. The County Supervisors Association of California says this year’s sixth and seven special sessions are the 13th and 14th he has called since taking office in October 2003.

Not surprisingly, four of this year’s seven special sessions relate to fiscal problems.

The number of the sessions has effectively eliminated the “off-season” from September when lawmakers adjourn their regular session to January when they reconvene.

The water special session occurred the week of November 2, well into the Legislature’s traditional fall recess.

On December 2, the 1st Extraordinary Session was called by the GOP governor to deal with California’s budget imbalance and lack of cash for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2008. The session was adjourned on December 18, 2008.

A concurrent session was also called on December 2 to focus on economic stimulus, the mortgage crisis, solvency of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund, which remains insolvent, and job creation. It was adjourned February 19.

On January 5, in conjunction with the introduction of his budget proposal, the GOP governor convened the 3rd Extraordinary Session, again on the budget imbalance for both the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2008 and the one beginning July 1, 2009. It was adjourned on October 15.

The 4th Extraordinary didn’t last very long. It was called July 6 to deal with fiscal issues in the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years and was adjourned July 24, 2009.

The 5th and 6th sessions remain open.

The former focuses on the federal “Race to the Top” education funding as well as eligibility guidelines and requirements.

Proposals by Schwarzenegger’s special tax overhaul commission are the subject of the sixth session. And water policy, that of the seventh.

So far this hasn’t posed any logistical problems for the Senate and the Assembly despite the record number of special sessions, although a computer search for any Assembly or Senate bills with lower numbers like two through nine can lead to pages of listings on the Senate and Assembly homepages.

While not enshrined in the state constitution or the Legislature’s Joint Rules, the Secretary of the Senate and the Assembly’s Chief Clerk use different colors when printing the files that show what bills are under consideration in the special sessions.

The long-time custom and precedence is blue for the 1st Extraordinary, green for the 2nd then purple, tan, canary, salmon—and goldenrod, the color of the file of the water special session.

If three more special sessions are called they will be buff, pink and ivory.

“After that, Terra Incognita,” says Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt. “Guess we’d pick more colors.”



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