What is a “Special Session”? Unlike a regular legislative session, special sessions occur to deal with specific issues or topics. Usually, the scope of the special session is limited to these specific issues. Each state has its own rules and laws for the processes on special sessions, including how to call for them. In 14 states, only the governor can call for a special session.
Meanwhile either a state’s governor or legislature in the other 36 states can call a special session. At the time of this writing, five states are currently in a special session or have recently adjourned, including Nevada, Oregon, Missouri, Illinois, and Tennessee.
2020 has seen an increase in special legislative sessions. The COVID-19 pandemic has required lawmakers to change how they operate, which DMGS covered earlier this year. The spread of the coronavirus has changed timing for state legislatures, and lawmakers have called for special sessions due to timing issues. COVID-19 has also had a significant impact on a myriad of state issues, including budget shortfalls, liability protections, and unemployment issues, to name a few. As a result, states have called lawmakers into special sessions to address these issues. Lawmakers have also called special sessions to address various police and criminal justice reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police officers in Minnesota, among other injustices seen across the country.
What happens in a special session? Does anything get accomplished? One state – Nevada – has already had two special sessions this year.
Nevada’s 31st Special Session
On July 7, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak issued a formal proclamation calling lawmakers into the state’s first special session to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly related to the general fund shortfall. In addressing the historic $1.2 billion budget shortfall, Nevada lawmakers passed numerous bills during the special session:
- Senate Bill 1 – revises provisions related to capital improvement projects, resulting in General Fund savings of $72,599,117;
- Senate Bill 2 – provides that in response to a state of emergency, or declaration of disaster, proclaimed by either the Governor or Legislature, a temporary waiver of the eligibility requirements for the Governor Guinn Millennium Scholarship may be made as deemed appropriate by the Board of Regents. The waiver could be related to student GPA or the minimum number of credits required;
- Senate Bill 3 – temporarily accelerates the collection of a portion of the tax upon the net proceeds of minerals, temporarily requires persons who extract minerals to pay a portion of the tax on the net proceeds of the estimated royalties that will be paid for certain years, temporarily alters the allocation of a portion of the proceeds of the basic governmental services tax; requiring the Department of Taxation to allow for the payment of delinquent taxes, fees or assessments without a penalty for a limited period in certain circumstances; and
- Assembly Bill 3 – implements most of the budget changes.
Lawmakers and Governor Sisolak’s office worked together to find an additional $138.6 million in funding, which will help restore the following:
- $49 million for additional Medicaid services, including dental, hospice services, behavioral health and supporting housing services;
- $514,000 for pediatric intensive care;
- $7.4 million for essential inpatient and outpatient mental health services across southern Nevada, including Behavioral Health Professionals, Crisis Triage Centers, and Housing supports;
- $1.4 million for behavioral health practitioners, intensive case management, and medication clinics in northern Nevada;
- $1.5 million for behavioral health practitioners and housing support programs in rural Nevada;
- $1.8 million for the Teach Nevada program;
- $700,000 for computer science and technology program;
- $25.8 million to reduce the number of furlough days for state employees from 12 to 6 days;
- $14.3 million to reinstate merit pay for state employees; and
- $1.4 million to avoid certain state employee layoffs.
Despite lawmakers convening for the special session in early July, Governor Sisolak called lawmakers back for another special session at the end of July to address significant policy issues. The governor’s official proclamation outlined the priorities for the special session:
Nevada’s 32nd Special Session
- Address criminal and social justice reform;
- Unemployment protections needed due to COVID-19;
- Voting in a way that does not expose Nevadans to increased risk of COVID-19 infection;
- Help stabilize businesses in Nevada;
- Remove statutory barriers impeding the work of Nevada’s unemployment insurance program;
- Providing authority for the Judicial Branch to implement alternative dispute resolution measures in cases of rental evictions; and
- Additional items requested by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.
Lawmakers were able to pass a variety of legislation during Nevada’s 32nd special session:
- Assembly Bill 1 – ratifies certain technical corrections made to NRS and Statutes of Nevada;
- Assembly Bill 2 – enacts provisions governing the use by certain committees of remote-technology systems for conducting committee meetings during the public health crisis caused by COVID-19, provides for the publication of certain joint resolutions proposing amendments to the Nevada Constitution under certain circumstances, and clarifies provisions governing the organization, operation, and personnel of the Legislative Counsel Bureau;
- Assembly Bill 3 – makes numerous changes related to public safety – authorizes a person to record law enforcement activity in certain circumstances, prohibits a peace officer from using a chokehold or placing a person in their custody in a position that compresses their airway or restricts their ability to breathe, requires a peace officer to prevent or stop another peace officer from using unjustified physical force and reports such behavior to their supervisor, and requires each law enforcement agency to adopt a written policy regarding the drug and alcohol testing of a peace officer following an officer-involved shooting or when the conduct of a peace officer results in substantial bodily harm to or the death of another person, provides that the newly effective provisions of law reducing the maximum period of probation or suspension of sentence that may be imposed upon a person apply to persons sentenced on or after July 1, 2020, and requires law enforcement agencies to provide a report to the legislature containing information relating to traffic stops and other stops by law enforcement officers;
- Assembly Bill 4 – enacts provisions for conducting elections adversely affected by certain emergencies or disasters and revises provisions governing election procedures for absent ballots, mailing ballots, and other mail ballots. The bill aims to guarantee all active registered voters receive a mail-in ballot and mandates a minimum number of in-person polling locations;
- Senate Bill 1 – authorizes Nevada’s Supreme Court, Justice Courts, and District Courts to establish rules setting up an expedited program of alternative dispute resolution for evictions for any housing programs operated by a public housing authority;
- Senate Bill 2 – eliminates the prohibition on the use of a peace officer’s compelled statement in a civil case, revises provisions regarding when a law enforcement agency may initiate an investigation into the alleged misconduct of a peace officer, revises provisions relating to the reassignment of a peace officer who is under investigation, authorizes a peace officer or representative to inspect certain evidence and submit a response after the conclusion of an investigation, and revises provisions requiring the dismissal of civil and administrative proceedings against a peace officer under certain circumstances;
- Senate Bill 3 – provides more flexibility to the Department of Employment, Training, and Rehabilitation (DETR) to help connect claimants to benefits faster and will extend the number of weeks Nevadans are eligible for additional benefits through the pandemic, using only federal funds; and
- Senate Bill 4 – limits the civil liability of certain businesses conducted for profit, governmental entities and private nonprofit organizations for personal injury or death resulting from exposure to COVID-19, authorizes the Secretary of State to suspend the state business license of a person that does not comply with certain health standards related to COVID-19, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to establish minimum standards for cleaning in public accommodation facilities in certain counties, and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt regulations requiring such a facility to adopt protocols and plans concerning the prevention of and response to COVID-19.