General Assembly Adjourns the Unusual 2018 Legislative Session

By Julie Pelegrin

For the first time since the 2012 regular legislative session, both the House of Representatives and the Senate worked until midnight on the 120th legislative day before gaveling closed the second regular session of the Seventy-first General Assembly. Actually, the General Assembly wrapped up at 11:58 p.m. in 2012. For the most recent true midnight sine die, you have to go all the way back to 2002.

And there were some other unusual things about the 2018 legislative session.

Representatives introduced 441 bills, Senators introduced 280 bills, for a grand total of 721 bills. That’s the highest number of bills introduced in a single session in over a decade. Ten days before the session ended, there were still 276 bills pending passage. In the last three days of the session, the General Assembly voted on approximately 126 bills.

There was nothing unusual about the wide range of topics under consideration this session. There were several bills recommended by the Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Interim Study Committee, bills to address the teacher shortage, bills concerning school and student safety, a bill to expand access to broadband in rural areas, bills for tax credits, bills on marijuana, gun bills, higher education bills, bills addressing the competency of juveniles and other defendants, bills on a stunning array of topics. And, of course, there was the bill to fund the operations of the executive and judicial departments for the 2018-19 fiscal year: the budget bill.

Legislators had an unusual revenue windfall to apply toward the 2018-19 fiscal year, which resulted in a $150 million increase in funding for preschool, elementary and secondary education; a nine percent overall increase in funding for higher education; $495 million for transportation projects; and $225 million for the Public Employees’ Retirement  Association (PERA).

And speaking of transportation and PERA…

One of the bills passed during the last two days of the 2018 legislative session was the first introduced: Senate Bill 18-001. After trying for several consecutive legislative sessions, the House and the Senate members were able to craft an agreement and pass a transportation bill. In addition to the $495 million for transportation projects just mentioned, the bill authorizes an additional $150 million in projects in the 2019 fiscal year and allows the state to request voter approval for $2.34 billion in transportation bonds.

The PERA bill—Senate Bill 18-200—took longer to wrap up. The conference committee (three representatives and three senators who meet to work out the differences between the House version and the Senate version of the bill) was formed Wednesday, May 2 but did not meet until late on the last night. The Senate passed the conference committee report and took final action on the bill at 11:10 p.m., less than an hour before adjournment. In its final form, the bill generally adjusts contribution levels, age of retirement, and cost-of-living increases to strengthen the solvency of the PERA system.

But that wasn’t the last controversial bill to pass. The House of Representatives took final action on House Bill 18-1256, which continues the existence of the Civil Rights Division and Commission within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, at 11:30 p.m. by repassing the bill and sending it to the Governor’s desk.

And still, the controversy continued.

The last bill considered during the 2018 session—Senate Bill 18-252—addressed determining the competency to proceed of a person who has mental illness and is accused of a crime. The conference committee met earlier in the day and reached a conclusion, although not all of the committee members agreed with the outcome. The House adopted the conference committee report and repassed the bill, and by about 11:30 p.m., it was ready for Senate action. The bill sponsor explained the conference committee report and asked for an aye vote. But at that point—about 11:40 p.m.—Senator Aguilar began speaking against the conference committee report, urging a no vote. She explained her reasons, and kept explaining her reasons, until the President banged the gavel at midnight and the Majority Leader made the motion to adjourn sine die. In one of the most unusual moves to occur in several years, the last bill of the session died at midnight due to a filibuster.

But there’s still one unusual outcome from the 2018 session that we must mention.

Each year, before they adjourn, the General Assembly passes a joint resolution to set the date for convening the next regular legislative session. This year, because of overlapping constitutional provisions (we’ll explain in a later post), the General Assembly set the date for convening the 2019 regular legislative session for January 4, 2019. Does that sound early to you? Well it is. And it’s a Friday; the legislative session usually starts on a Wednesday. Silver lining: The 2019 session will end on Friday, May 3, 2019, thanks to the 120-day constitutional limit.

The early start date drove the General Assembly to change the bill request deadlines. This year, each returning legislator must submit at least three bill requests to the Office of Legislative Legal Services no later than November 26, 2018. Each legislator who is newly elected to the General Assembly must submit at least three bill requests no later than December 10, 2018. Both of these dates are about a week earlier than usual.

Having survived one of the more unusual sessions in recent memory, we’re all looking forward to a nice, quiet interim – at least until the interim committees start meeting in July or August.