Government & Politics

In Kansas, Missouri and across the country, the legislative sessions go on and on …

Missouri legislators did the traditional paper toss on the last day of the legislative session on May 12. They have since been called back for two special sessions.
Missouri legislators did the traditional paper toss on the last day of the legislative session on May 12. They have since been called back for two special sessions. Associated Press file photo

Kansas lawmakers may have dispensed with the big issues of school finance and taxes, but they’re not done yet. And that means they are inching toward the longest session in Topeka ever.

Thursday is day 111. Only the 2015 session, when legislators spent 114 days in the statehouse, was longer. That year, a 40-day veto session kept legislators on the job until June 12.

Even if this year’s session doesn’t break 2015’s record, “it’s a damn long session already,” said Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist.

All six of Kansas’s triple-digit regular sessions have come since 1990. Loomis chalked up the recent longer sessions to political polarization and less experienced legislators.

Last year, multiple bills were proposed to further limit the time legislators spend in Topeka. One floated idea would have limited odd-numbered years to 90 days. That idea never gained traction.

Special sessions also may be called by the governor, or lawmakers may petition him to call one. Five times since 1969 special sessions also extended the legislative work year: 1987, 1989, 2005, 2013 and 2016.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens this week called for the second special session since the General Assembly ended its regular session May 12.

Other states that have held special sessions this year include Alaska, New Mexico, Minnesota, Florida, Mississippi and West Virginia. Texas and Kentucky’s governors have promised the same. Louisiana’s legislature will return for a special session if work isn’t completed by 6 p.m. Thursday. In North Carolina, legislative leaders refused the governor’s call for a special session.

Missouri state law requires regular sessions to end by May 30.

According to Jonathan Griffin, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the average state legislature meets for about 120 calendar days. The number includes weekends, though legislatures rarely meet on weekends.

By calendar days, the Kansas Legislature has been in session for 150 days, almost a month more than the national average.

Missouri’s way of doing business is similar to most state legislatures, said Peverill Squire, University of Missouri political scientist. Squire said most states meet every year in strictly limited sessions.

That wasn’t always the popular route. A majority of state legislatures met every other year in the 1960s. Only four state legislatures meet biennially now, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The rest meet in regular session every year, and seven meet year-round.

The trend toward annual sessions was accompanied by fairly concrete limits on their lengths, in order to limit costs and legislative power, Squire said.

The Kansas Legislature met biannually from 1877 to 1955. In 1956, the Legislature added a budget session in off years, before going to yearly regular sessions in the mid-’60s, according to historical documents provided by the State Library of Kansas.

Initially, the Missouri constitution only required the legislature to meet in the years following general elections. In 1960, the constitution was amended and the legislature went to annual regular sessions, according to documents provided by the Missouri Legislative Library.

As for this year’s marathon in Topeka: Substantive work in state legislatures always waits until time pressure forces legislators’ hands, said Mark Peterson, political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka.

This year, it’s taken longer than most.