It’s special session time in Tennessee (again)

The Senate meets in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers are back in Nashville on Monday for a special session, this time to complete unfinished business from when they couldn’t agree back in June over COVID-19 liability protections and a telehealth bill.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) got in under the wire on a fundraising blackout on Monday morning by collecting checks from donors at the Hermitage Hotel. Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) had their own fundraisers at Puckett’s restaurant and Nissan Stadium, respectively.

The House Republican Caucus picked up where it left off by holding a closed-door meeting before the start of the first floor session.

Legislative historian Eddie Weeks has combed through the records to find some interesting facts about his special session:

On Monday, August 10, at 4 p.m., the 111th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee will convene in an Extraordinary Session called by Governor Bill Lee. This will be the Second Extraordinary Session of the 111th General Assembly and the 61st Extraordinary Session in the history of the State. The prior Extraordinary Session was also called by Governor Lee; it lasted for one day, August 23, 2019.

Of the previous five governors, Governors Haslam, Bredesen, and Alexander each called two Extraordinary Sessions during their terms in office; Governor Sundquist called three, and Governor McWherter called one. Ray Blanton was the last Tennessee governor who did not call an Extraordinary Session during his term in office. John Sevier holds the record for the most Extraordinary Sessions called by one Tennessee governor; he called five Extraordinary Sessions between 1796 and 1809. He served as governor from 1796 to 1801 and again from 1803 to 1809.

The last time Extraordinary Sessions were called in back-to-back years was in 2015 and 2016. The last time before then was in 1984 and 1985. Governor Sundquist called two Extraordinary Sessions in 1999, one in March and one in November of that year. Between 1967 and 1983, no governor of Tennessee called an Extraordinary Session, although there were two Extraordinary Sessions during that time, both called by the General Assembly itself.

The 70th General Assembly (1937-1938) is the only General Assembly to have convened in three Extraordinary Sessions, and those three Extraordinary Sessions were called by two different governors. Governor Hill McAlister called the First Extraordinary Session in December 1936; as this was after the November elections, the newly elected members convened early for the Extraordinary Session, then convened their Regular Session in January 1937. After adjourning sine die on May 21, 1937 (the General Assembly still only meeting every other year), Governor Gordon Browning called the 70th General Assembly into their Second Extraordinary Session on October 11, 1937. After that Extraordinary Session adjourned sine die on October 30, 1937, Governor Browning called them back into their Third Extraordinary Session on November 8, 1937.

The First Extraordinary Sessions of 1877, 1890, 1913, and 1931, and the Extraordinary Sessions of 1944, 1971, 1982, 1996, 2015, 2016, and 2019 all lasted less than a week. The Second Extraordinary Session called by Governor William Brownlow in 1866 lasted from November 5, 1866, until March 11, 1867.

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