R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, Republican gubernatorial candidate, has proposed getting rid of annual sessions of the General Assembly in favor of holding sessions only once every two years, in order to set the biennial budget. Griebel said the change would force the legislature to focus on its work, abide by its deadlines and accomplish more. Griebel wasn’t certain whether such a change would require a constitutional amendment.
An editorial in favor of biennial, as opposed to annual, legislative sessions made some of the same points, claiming that such a move would cause “much saving in expense and unnecessary tinkering of statutes, while the solid work done is greater in amount and value.” The writer also criticized annual sessions, calling them “prolific of jobbery.” The editorial was published in the New York Times on October 6th, 1884, as Connecticut was considering an amendment like the one Mr. Griebel has proposed. The amendment passed. After the 1886 election, the legislature met in session every other year, in order to set the biennial budget. Terms for state officeholders were set at two years instead of one (imagine an election every year).
This state of affairs continued until the second half of the twentieth century. In 1945, Connecticut voters narrowly defeated a proposed amendment that would bring back annual sessions, and the legislature defeated a similar amendment in 1955.
Finally, in 1970, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that provided for a five-month regular session in odd-numbered years, and a three-month session in even-numbered ones. The short session was intended to deal only with budgetary adjustments, but in practice this is not always the case.
Lawmakers have even tried to extend the length of the short session, claiming that they were unable to finish the needed business in the allotted time. A proposal in 1984 to this effect was eventually defeated.
Other states manage their legislatures in different ways, according to their own traditions and politics. Texas’ legislature meets biennially for a relatively short session. Massachusetts, on the other hand, has a full-time legislature which meets year-round, much like the U.S. Congress. There seems to be little agreement on which methods work best.
It is worth noting, however, that special sessions to finish various outstanding legislative business have become very common in Connecticut in recent years. There is no reason to think that getting rid of the short sessions would significantly reduce the amount of time the legislature actually meets.
Chris Bigelow is the former owner/author of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.