This year’s special session bucks historical trends

July 8, 2022 7:00 am

The Indiana House of Representatives will come alive July 25 for a special session. Photo by Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle

After more than 20 years covering the Indiana Statehouse, I have seen a thing or two. But the upcoming special session is a rarity – an emergency meeting on something other than the two-year state budget.

Under Indiana’s original constitution from 1816-1851, there were no special sessions because all legislative business was expected to be completed during the annual session in the winter months, according to the Capitol and Washington blog.

Then the constitution was amended to allow the legislature to meet only in odd-numbered years. That brought on the need for special sessions – 24 of them – between 1851 and 1970 (when the constitution was amended again to allow the legislature to meet annually under the current long-session/short-session scheme), the blog said.

Since 1970 there have been 13 special sessions called (including two in one year). Nine of those were to complete the biennial state budget, which must be enacted by June 30 every other year.

The others were in 1982, 2002, 2018 and now 2022. A footnote: Last year’s redistricting efforts weren’t technically a special session because the General Assembly simply recessed, rather than adjourned, so they could return when final census data was available.

In 1982 and 2002, lawmakers were forced back to deal with revenue deficits due to recession; in 2018 lawmakers went past midnight and had to return for a one-day session passing five unrelated bills that had died.

So, budgetary needs are almost universally the reason for a special session.

Not so this year.

Part-time legislature returns

Gov. Eric Holcomb called the latest session originally to send money back to taxpayers in the form of a rebate due to the large state surplus – projected to hit $6 billion by the end of the biennium. There is no fiscal emergency at hand.

But then the landmark abortion protection of Roe v. Wade was struck down and Republican legislative leaders made clear they want to further restrict – and possibly even ban – abortion. To come up with that legislation they delayed the July 6 return to July 25.

One reason special sessions aren’t favored is you can’t control the outcome. Lawmakers are free to file bills on any topic and it is hard for leaders to corral 150 legislators – even when there are Republican supermajorities on both sides.

Indeed, I expect several abortion bills to be filed and an array of uncomfortable amendments to be offered. In addition, House Republicans have staked out the need to support women and pregnancy through other means, which could mean additional state spending.

Democrats will push a gas tax suspension as the preferred inflation relief and Republicans can offer up other one-time measures to reduce the surplus and head off cries of massing wealth on the backs of taxpayers.

Another concern is that Indiana embraces a part-time legislature and having special sessions for specific topics that could wait until the next year inches toward a full-time presence at the Statehouse. A two-week special session is estimated to cost taxpayers about $280,000.

There is a definitive end to the session though – by law it can’t last more than 40 calendar days. So, action must be finished on or before midnight on Aug. 14. See you then folks to assess the results.

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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.