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Special sessions becoming common

When the Nevada Legislature convenes Friday, it will be just the 24th special session in the state’s 144 year history.

But it will be the seventh special session in just eight years.

Historically, the most common reason for special sessions has been the budget – the same issue driving Gov. Jim Gibbons to call lawmakers into session Friday.

The first special session of the Legislature was called in 1867, just three years after statehood. According to the Political History of Nevada published by the Secretary of State’s office, Gov. Henry Blasdel issued the call “for the purpose of providing necessary state revenue.”

It was another 41 years before the second special session was necessary. Gov. John Sparks called lawmakers together in 1908. They created the Nevada State Police to control violence that had erupted between labor unions and mine operators in Goldfield.

Gov. Tasker Oddie called the third just four years later. The issue again was a financial crisis. Lawmakers authorized a loan from the state School Fund so the state could pay its bills.

The fourth in 1920 adopted the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote.

But special legislative sessions in 1928, 1954, 1956 and 1964 all dealt primarily with financial issues.

The 11th special session in 1965 was unusual in that, while Gov. Grant Sawyer issued the call, he did so under orders from the U.S. District Court which mandated that Nevada reapportion its state Senate to meet constitutional one-man-one-vote requirements. Until that time, the Nevada Senate consisted of one senator from each of the 17 counties even though the vast majority of the population was, as now, in just Clark and Washoe counties. The so-called “cow counties,” the rurals, had refused to relinquish their effective control over the Legislature until after they lost in court. And despite the fact they eventually complied, many of them made bitter floor statements about federal interference with state’s rights during the special session.

After reapportionment, six of the 20 senators who served in the 1967 Legislature were from Clark County and six more represented parts of Washoe County.

The 16th special session was called in 1989 to repeal controversial legislation in which lawmakers quadrupled their own retirement benefits. Public outrage still resulted in significant turnover in both the Senate and Assembly in the 1990 elections.

The number of special sessions increased dramatically after enactment of the constitutional amendment limiting the regular session to 120 days. In fact, only the 1999 Legislature has been able to finish its business in 120 days since that amendment took effect 10 years ago. And the problem has generally been completing the budget.

Gov. Kenny Guinn called a total of six special sessions during his eight years in office, earning him the nickname “Special K” in some quarters. But those specials weren’t Guinn’s fault.

In 2001, it was a combination of the budget and the fact lawmakers didn’t finish reapportionment.

Two special sessions were necessary to finish the budget following the contentious 2003 Legislature. And it was failure to finish the budget which caused the 2005 special.

However, two of the Guinn special sessions had nothing to do with budget problems. He called a special session in 2002 after the major provider of medical malpractice insurance pulled out of Nevada, leaving a large percentage of Nevada physicians without coverage and those who could get insurance facing massive premium increases. Guinn and lawmakers created a state-managed mutual fund to fix the problem.

And Guinn was forced to call lawmakers back in November 2004 to consider impeachment proceedings against then-controller Kathy Augustine. The Senate rejected the most serious charges.

Friday’s special session will be the second called by Gibbons. A brief session was necessary after the 2007 Legislature to finish the budget.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.