June 15, 2009
By Aman Batheja
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Gov. Rick Perry announced last week that he is calling lawmakers back to Austin for a special session. While legislators wait for the governor to tell them what they will be doing, one question is already being debated: Who’s to blame?
The Legislature regularly meets for 140 days every two years, but the governor has the authority to call it back into session for up to 30 days at a time to tackle whatever issues he or she considers crucial enough to require the additional time.
For Perry, this special session — his eighth since becoming governor — is needed to shore up the Texas Transportation Department and four other state agencies that will possibly be forced to shut down by September 2010 if they do not get legislative authorization to continue. The others are the Insurance Department, the State Affordable Housing Corp., the Racing Commission, and the Office of Public Insurance Counsel.
Perry did not say when lawmakers will be asked to return to the Capitol, but there has been speculation that it could be as soon as next month.
The question that always comes up when the governor seeks a special session is why extra time is needed to tend to the state’s business.
For many, there is plenty of blame to go around. Though it’s Perry’s first in three years, special sessions have occurred often enough in Texas history to make even the name seem sarcastic.
"They’re not that special," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Every governor with the single exception of Gov. Bush in the last 70 years has had at least one special session, and oftentimes more than one." Governors have called more than 110 special sessions since 1850. Republican Bill Clements holds the record, 11. His immediate successor, Democrat Ann Richards, called four.
Perry has called special sessions on issues such as congressional redistricting and school finance.
The Legislature will only be able to work on topics Perry agrees to make part of the session’s agenda.
"I expect the call will be relatively narrow, but other issues may be allowed into the session once critical items are dealt with," Jillson said. "So it’s a way to say 'You deal with my issues first.’ "
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