Regular sessions are the regular gatherings of state legislators as required by the state constitution.
Texas is one of four states that do not have annual regular sessions. In Texas, our regular session is a biennial 140-day session that begins the second Tuesday in January in odd-numbered years (for example, the regular session for the 87th Texas Legislature met from January 12, 2021, through May 31, 2021). During a regular session, the state budget and several thousand other bills must be considered.
Special sessions are legislative sessions called between regular sessions to consider specific policy items or complete certain actions (such as redistricting).
In Texas, the governor has the power to call a special session for up to 30 days. The governor sets the agenda for these special sessions, which limits the legislature when it comes to what topics can be discussed and what types of actions can be taken.
While the Texas Constitution of 1876 limits the length of special sessions to 30 days, it does not place any limits on the number of special sessions that can be called or the amount of time the governor must wait to call another one. This means that the governor can call back-to-back special sessions if the Texas Legislature fails to take action in response to the agenda. Calling multiple special sessions back-to-back, however, is not a common occurrence, in large part because special sessions are expensive (special sessions cost approximately $57,000/day, or $1.7 million/month), which makes them unpopular in a state that generally favors limited government (which includes limiting government spending). Special sessions are also unpopular with legislators, who lose personal income: they have to take away time from their regular profession to meet at the state capitol and are not compensated their per diem like they are during a regular session.
There have been 123 special sessions since 1850; the most recent was called by Governor Abbott in 2021. More information about past special sessions can be found on the Legislative Research Library of Texas’s website.