Even with Missouri lawmakers now finished with the first special legislative session of the year, there are still many more requests for special sessions. Despite legislators wanting more time to pass bills, a political science professor at the University of Missouri said longer sessions are not the answer.
Although professor Peverill Squire conceded there has been an unusually high number of requests for special sessions this year, he doesn’t think adding days to the regular session would solve the problem.
“Given the overwhelming majorities the GOP enjoys in both chambers, bills that did not make it through the process during the regular session failed because the leadership and an insufficient number of members wanted to pursue them,” Squire said. “Time was not really an obstacle.”
Legislators currently meet in Jefferson City for a 4-month regular session. It starts in early January and ends in the middle of May. It has been like this since Missourians overwhelmingly approved an amendment in 1988 that reduced the session by two weeks.
“My guess is that any attempt by the Legislature to add two weeks back to the calendar would meet voter resistance,” Squire said.
Even if the regular session was longer, Squire said, difficult issues will almost always be pushed to the end of the session.
“It is not procrastination, but rather it is the product of having to assemble the necessary support across numerous proposals to get them through two chambers,” Squire said. “Consequently, tacking on another week or two to the session would be unlikely to result in many more bills getting passed.”
In early June, Gov. Mike Parson told reporters he had 13 special session requests on his desk. Those requests ranged from election reform to agricultural issues.
Squire said legislators are making so many special session requests because they want to attract attention and attach themselves to certain issues. He noted it doesn’t cost the lawmaker anything, and there is a chance they reap some political benefit from it.
“Holding a special session does, however, come with some cost for the state — which, realistically, is trivial in the larger state budget — and some pain for members who may have their personal and professional lives disrupted by a call to return to Jefferson City,” Squire said.
Last year’s special session cost the state more than $200,000, with the House in session for 12 days and the Senate in session for 13 days.
The Legislature has the ability to call itself into special session with the support of three-quarters of the members in each chamber. This has only happened once, in 2018, when legislators met to consider impeaching then-Gov. Eric Greitens.
“I doubt that there would be sufficient support among the members to call themselves back into session to address the issues that some members are currently pushing,” Squire said.
While the governor hasn’t indicated which, if any, requests for special sessions will be granted, Squire said he will have to call a special session later in the year to address congressional redistricting. Parson could add some of the requested issues to that special session, but Squire warned that this could divert legislators’ attention away from the task of redistricting.
Squire suggested two changes.
The first would be to allow legislators to spend 16 years in whichever chamber they want before they term out, an idea that has been proposed in the Legislature. Currently, lawmakers can spend only eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. Squire said this would provide each chamber with more experience and improve institutional memory.
His second idea is more novel. He suggested the Legislature be reduced from 34 senators and 163 representatives to 33 senators and 99 representatives.
“It would allow the state to spread its current legislative budget on fewer members — increasing the salaries they receive — and provide each member with more staff and probably better offices,” Squire said.