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Key Takeaways:

  • What exactly does “extended recess” mean? We get a lot of questions from clients about state legislatures’ status and legislative terminology, especially given the unique situation state legislatures have been in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Like most practices of state legislatures, there are 50 different ways to define the same thing.
  • In this post, we’ll give you the definitions you need — defining common themes used by multiple states and explain the differences between “recess” and “extended recess,” adjourned” and “adjourned sine die,” and “special session” and “extended recess.”

Here at MultiState, we get a lot of questions from clients about state legislatures’ status and legislative terminology. Sometimes the questions are about the terminology used for the status itself. For example, a common question we get from clients is, “What does extended recess mean, and how is it different from adjournment?” Since several states are currently in extended recess while others have adjourned or are about to adjourn, we’ll sort through some of these terms and why they matter. Like most practices of state legislatures, there are 50 different ways to define the same thing, but the following are some common themes used by multiple states.

Recess vs. Extended Recess

“Recess” is when the legislature pauses session for more than a few days. The California Legislature, for example, recently went on recess for 30 days, July 16 through August 16, for their annual summer break. The dates for this recess were established on the legislative calendar at the beginning of session. 

“Extended Recess” is a long break for the legislature without a fixed return date. For example, the Indiana General Assembly left for an extended recess on April 22 after wrapping up the bulk of their work for the year. Due to a Covid-related delay in receiving census figures from the federal government, lawmakers were forced to leave town without taking up redistricting, but with a promise to return sometime in the fall before Nov. 15 to finish their once-a-decade duty to redraw state legislative and congressional maps.  

Adjourned vs. Adjourned Sine Die

“Adjourned” means a legislature has finished its work, either for the day or for the year. For example, the Georgia General Assembly, which meets for 40 non-consecutive legislative session days over the course of two or three months, adjourns at the end of each day. While in New York, when the Senate and Assembly finished their work on June 11, they were adjourned until 2022. 

“Sine Die” means “without day” in Latin, so a legislature that adjourns sine die is finished for the year, and there can be no more legislative activity in that session (because there are no more days).  As an example, the Nevada Legislature, which only meets every other year, adjourned sine die on June 1, meaning there are no more days left in session and the session is 100 percent done.

Special Session vs. Extended Recess

Why would a state legislature go into extended recess instead of just adjourning and returning in special session if necessary?  Let’s take redistricting as an example. The reasons vary and are particular to each state. Take Idaho, for example. In Idaho, if the legislature adjourns sine die, only the governor can bring the legislature back into session before the start of the regular session the following year. So at the conclusion of this year’s session in Boise, one that was interrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks and featured political disagreements between the governor and legislative leaders despite all being of the same party, House leaders decided the lower chamber would recess indefinitely, rather than adjourn, with a promise to return sometime before December 31. To make matters even more confusing, the Idaho Senate adjourned sine die, meaning only Gov. Brad Little (R) can bring the upper chamber back this year, so the House may be flying solo whenever they return.

In conclusion, when asked, “which is better — extended recess or adjournment?” The correct answer is always, “Sine die!” Visit multistate.us/resources  for daily updates of state legislative sessions, including important legislative deadlines,  access to legislative buildings, mask requirements, and more.