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Frequently Asked Questions About California Special Sessions

What are the rules for gubernatorial bill actions in a special session?

By Chris Micheli, February 6, 2024 2:45 am

Can the Governor call a special session for any reason? Under Article IV, Section 3(b) of the state constitution, it is “on extraordinary occasions” that the Governor by proclamation can force the Legislature to assemble in special session. This is also the reason why “special sessions” are formally called “extraordinary sessions”.

Must the Legislature enact bills when called into special session? While the Legislature must convene the special session once it has been called by the Governor, there is no legal requirement that any legislation be enacted, nor even be voted upon.

Is there any limitation on what bills can be considered in a special session? The state Constitution does limit what the Legislature can consider during a special session — “it has power to legislate only on subjects specified in the proclamation, but may provide for expenses and other matters incidental to the special session.”

Do special sessions continue once called by the Governor? Regular sessions of the Legislature, and any special sessions not previously adjourned, are adjourned sine die at midnight on November 30 of each even-numbered year.

How can the Legislature adjourn a special session? Prior to sine die, adjournment requires a majority vote of both houses to adjourn the session. It is done by adoption of a concurrent resolution. So, if the Assembly adjourns the special session, but the Senate does not, then the session remains open.

When does a statute enacted at a special session go in effect? 90 days after adjournment of the special session, so a bill takes effect on the 91st day after the special session adjourns.

Are there legislative rules adopted in a special session? Yes, Government Code Section 9921 requires the Senate and Assembly to adopt Joint Rules for their proceeding “for each regular and special session by resolution…”

What are some of the subject matters of previous special sessions? Topics have included:

  • Balancing the state budget
  • Workers’ compensation
  • State pensions
  • Education
  • Redistricting 
  • Funding for prison construction
  • Health care
  • Water
  • Tax reform

Will a special session run concurrently with a regular session? A special session can run concurrently with the regular session, or it can occur during a joint recess of the regular session.

What form does a special session bill take? It is generally written as:


As a result, the above bill is formally titled: ABX1 19 (or AB 19 in the First Extraordinary Session). It can also be written as AB 19x. In addition, at the top of each special session bill, there will be the following:

       CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2023–2024 1st Ext.

This makes clear that the bill is during a 2-year legislative session, but in the First Extraordinary Session. Otherwise, a special session bill looks like a regular session bill. It can amend, add, repeal, or do a combination of those actions to California’s Codes.

What color is the paper used for legislative publications in the first special session? Blue. This means that the Daily Files, Daily Journals, and Weekly Histories will be printed on blue paper, rather than the current white paper that is used for all regular session legislative publications.

Is there a difference between “calling” a special session and the “call” of a special session? Yes. First, some use the term “proclaim” (e.g., proclaim a special session), rather than “call” a special session. This is because some people use the term “call” to describe the purpose of the special session. In other words, “what is the call of the special session?” essentially means, “For what purpose is the special session?” The “call” of a special session can be broad or narrow in its scope.

What is the significance of the “call of the special session”? Bills can only be heard in the special session if they fall within the stated purpose of the special session. In fact, the Assembly Rules Committee and the Senate Rules Committee decide whether a bill’s subject matter is properly within the call (or jurisdiction) of the special session.

What procedural items take place when a special session is proclaimed? Just as with the convening of a regular session, a special session is convened with officers elected and rules adopted. There may be some differences in a few house or joint rules. Also, while all of the standing committees could be used in a special session, usually the Assembly and Senate establish just one to three committees that deal with the subject matter(s) of a special session.

Can regular session standing committees be the same in a special session? Yes, but they can also be different. For example, in the First Extraordinary Session during the 2015 Legislative Session, only three committees were used in the Senate: Appropriations, Rules, and (specially named) Transportation and Infrastructure Development Committee. The same membership was used between the regular and special session committees, with a slight expansion of the jurisdiction of the regular session’s Transportation Committee.

What are the rules for gubernatorial bill actions in a special session? Article IV, Section 10(b)(4) provides: “If the Legislature by adjournment of a special session prevents the return of a bill with the veto message, the bill becomes a statute unless the Governor vetoes the bill within 12 days after it is presented by depositing it and the veto message in the office of the Secretary of State.”

What are the effective dates of special session bills? Regarding effective dates, Article IV, Section 8(c)(1) provides: “…. a statute enacted at a special session shall go into effect on the 91st day after adjournment of the special session at which the bill was passed.” This is intended to allow a referendum to be pursued against a bill enacted in a special session (except four types of bills that are not subject to referendum). 

Are there different procedural rules for bills in a special session? Yes, there are several. For example, bills in a special session are not subject to many of the rules and deadlines contained in the Joint Rules of the Senate and Assembly. This includes Joint Rule 61 and 62 deadlines, as well as file notice requirements.

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