By David Ferguson
The General Assembly will meet in extended session beginning September 29.
I was asked what issues the General Assembly can consider in the extended session. This came up because some legislators had been told only congressional redistricting could be considered.
In answering the question, I wrote an article with my explanation. I said COVID-19 issues are within the scope of the extended session but legislation banning critical race theory is not within the scope of the extended session. (See article)
After Conduit News posted the article, I heard a different take on what is allowed. Some people have the impression only congressional redistricting and COVID-19 fund distribution are allowed to be considered in the extended session.
The idea that COVID-19 funding is the only COVID issue allowed is the exact opposite of what the General Assembly said in its concurrent resolution, HCR1015. The resolution, which extended the session, authorized, among other things, the consideration of:
“legislation related to the COVID-19 public health emergency and distribution of COVID-19 relief funds.”
It states two distinct issues, funding and non-funding COVID issues. There would be no reason to include the first phrase if the concurrent resolution was only going to allow consideration of the distribution of COVID funds. You would have to argue the words “legislation related to the COVID-19 public health emergency” have no meaning but the words following the word “and” have meaning.
In interpreting legislation such as this, you must look to the intent of the legislature, not the intent of the sponsor of the legislation. The intent of the legislature can be determined by looking at the plain meaning of the words in the resolution.
Here is the important part to remember. Although the General Assembly authorized itself to consider COVID-19 issues (both funding issues and non-budget issues), that doesn’t mean they will vote on COVID bills. The General Assembly is in charge and it is their choice.
The General Assembly may not want to debate or vote on COVID issues in the extended session. They can adjourn the session without considering such issues. Remember, just a few weeks ago the Senate, by majority vote, adjourned the recent special session instead of staying to consider COVID issues. It is totally within their discretion.
David Ferguson is an attorney and former Director of the Bureau of Legislative Research having had a career of writing legislation for members of the General Assembly for over thirty-two years.