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A Historical Snapshot of Minnesota's Legislative Special Sessions

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Governor Tim Pawlenty delivered a shot across the DFL's bow Thursday afternoon, or perhaps it was the dropping of an A-bomb, when he declared there would be no special sessions to resolve the state's budget matters and that, if need be, he would use his executive power of line-item vetoes and unallotments to balance the budget this summer.

Although governors are democratically elected in the Gopher State with such enumerated powers, charges came flying from DFL Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher that Pawlenty's proposed actions would be antithetical to the democratic process by making decisions, "Alone, with unelected people whispering in his ear."

DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller hoped that the governor would "calm down" and "get his wits about himself" in the next few days in order to "get back to a reasoned discussion."

To be sure, the specter of a special session has loomed from the early days of the 86th Legislature. But how frequently have such sessions been called by governors in the past, and how long do they usually last?

A Smart Politics analysis of Minnesota Legislative Reference Library records finds there have been 44 special sessions called since the 1st Legislature convened back in 1857. However, exactly half of these special sessions have been called during the past 29 years - with 10 in the 1980s, 7 in the 1990s, and 5 in the 2000s.

Minnesota Legislative Special Sessions by Decade, 1850s-2000s

Decade
# Sessions
2000s
5
1990s
7
1980s
10
1970s
2
1960s
4
1950s
5
1940s
1
1930s
4
1920s
0
1910s
3
1900s
1
1890s
0
1880s
1
1870s
0
1860s
1
1850s
0
Total
44
Note: Data from Minnesota Legislative Reference Library compiled by Smart Politics.

However, the convening of many of these special sessions, 16 in fact, were simply one day legislative affairs. In recent years, 1-day sessions have been called to provide special disaster relief (September 2007) and flood relief (September 2002, August 1997). However, some 1-day sessions have been called to address meaty budget bills (May 1993, April 1986) and revenue raising measures (April 1957, April 1955), such as those facing the current legislature.

Overall, 30 of the 44 special sessions have adjourned after less than 10 legislative days. Of those that have convened for more than 10 days, just two have occurred since the early 1970s. From December 1981 to January 1982, a session was convened to consider reduced appropriations and financial state aid shifts to address the state's cash-flow needs. In Pawlenty's first term, from May to July 2005, 23 legislative days were needed to pass unresolved budget bills from the regular session.

Length of Special Sessions in Legislative Days

Legislative days
Frequency
1 day
16
2 days
2
3 days
5
4 days
3
5 days
1
8 days
2
9 days
1
11 days
1
13 days
1
17 days
2
18 days
1
23 days
1
24 days
1
28 days
1
29 days
1
33 days
1
36 days
1
44 days
1
48 days
1
54 days
1
Total
44
Note: Data from Minnesota Legislative Reference Library compiled by Smart Politics.

The three longest special sessions on record in the Gopher State have involved revenue issues and the debate over whether and how to enact new tax measures. Such issues prompted a 54-day special session in 1971 (across 159 calendar days), a 48-day session in 1959, and a 44-day session in 1937. No other special session has taken more than 36 legislative days before adjournment.

Overall, the calling of special sessions is a late 20th Century phenomenon. During the Gopher State's first 100 years, from 1857 through 1956, just 13 such sessions were convened. However, during the next 51 years, from 1957-2007, 31 special sessions were called.

Minnesota Legislative Special Sessions, 1857-2009

Year
Convened
Adjourned
Calendar Days
Legislative Days
2007
September 11
September 11
1
1
2005
May 24
July 13
51
23
2003
May 20
May 29
10
8
2002
September 19
September 19
1
1
2001
June 11
June 29
19
9
1998
April 20
April 22
3
3
1997
October 23
November 14
23
4
1997
August 19
August 19
1
1
1997
June 26
June 26
1
1
1995
May 23
May 25
3
3
1994
August 31
August 31
1
1
1993
May 27
May 27
1
1
1989
September 27
September 29
3
3
1987
June 25
June 25
1
1
1986
April 2
April 2
1
1
1985
June 19
June 21
3
3
1982
July 9
July 9
1
1
1982
December 7
December 10
4
3
1982
March 30
March 30
1
1
1981-2
December 1
January 18
49
17
1981
July 1
July 2
2
2
1981
June 6
June 6
1
1
1979
May 24
May 24
1
1
1971
May 25
October 30
159
54
1967
May 23
June 2
11
8
1966
April 25
May 19
25
17
1961
December 18
December 19
2
2
1961
April 24
June 8
46
33
1959
April 25
July 1
68
48
1958
June 23
June 26
4
4
1957
April 30
April 30
1
1
1955
April 26
April 26
1
1
1951
April 24
April 24
1
1
1944
March 8
March 11
4
4
1937
May 24
July 23
61
44
1936
December 17
December 23
7
5
1935-6
December 2
January 25
55
36
1933-4
December 5
January 6
33
24
1919
September 8
September 19
12
11
1916
October 28
October 28
1
1
1912
June 4
June 18
15
13
1902
February 4
March 11
36
29
1881
October 11
November 19
40
28
1862
September 9
September 29
21
18
Total
 
 
675
421
Source: Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

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2 Comments


  • Out of curiosity, what was going on in 1971 with 159 calendar days?

  • That was the special session where the so "Minnesota Miracle" was passes where the sate took over much more of the funding of the state schools and property taxes on the local level were much less of a factor. It was a rather complex bit of legislation with deciding what taxes would be used to fund schools,etc. There was also recess in that session as they did not actually meet for all 159 calendar days.

  • Leave a comment


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