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A history of Texas special legislative sessions

As lawmakers stay at the Capitol for the first of several expected special sessions, we took a look back at the unique circumstances of other sessions.

AUSTIN, Texas — Monday, May 29, was technically the final day of the 88th Texas regular legislative session. But lawmakers weren't able to pack up and leave the Capitol because Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session later the same day.

This special session, lawmakers will be required to focus on addressing property tax cuts and border security. Abbott also said that "several special sessions will be required" to cover other "critical items" he says lawmakers need to address.

Special Session No. 1 started at 9 p.m. Monday. The House was set to convene at noon on Tuesday, and it was unclear when the Senate planned to convene.

The governor sets the topics for special sessions, and sessions are all a maximum of 30 days long. However, there is no minimum for how long a session can last – in fact, 100 years ago, a special session of the 38th Texas Legislature only met for an hour. Lawmakers didn't pass any bills that session, but they came back for another one a month later. 

During a special session, lawmakers can only address the specific subjects that a governor designates for that session, per Article 3, Section 40 of the Texas Constitution:

"When the Legislature shall be convened in special session, there shall be no legislation upon subjects other than those designated in the proclamation of the Governor calling such session."

However, there is not a limit on the number of topics a governor can designate in a special session proclamation, nor is there a limit to the number of special sessions a governor may call in between regular legislative sessions.

Lawmakers also don't always get a break in between special sessions. Back in 2003, the first special session of the 78th Texas Legislature ended July 28 and the second started the same day at 3:15 p.m.

There is also no requirement on how much notice a Texas governor has to give lawmakers before calling a special. Back in 1987, at 1:30 a.m., Gov. Bill Clements called a special session to start that same day at 11 a.m. – a notice of just nine-and-a-half hours. Lawmakers met for just one day that time. 

Clements did something similar during the next session.

And just like Abbott this year, back in 1905 and 1909, governors S. W. T. Lanham and Thomas Campbell, respectively, called special sessions on the last day of the regular session.

This is the fourth Texas legislative session in a row that has had at least one special session called by the governor. Abbott has been governor each of those four times.

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