by Gus Blackwell
Both chambers have finished their work of public committee work and now begin the twin task of the budgeting process and conference committee work. This process entails the structured work of standing subcommittees on appropriations as well as the unstructured process of conference committees.
Most legislative work is now being handled away from the House floor with most of the emphasis centered on finishing a state budget. The leaders in both chambers have agreed to a broad framework for the budget. This includes at least 58 million for tax relief, extra money for repair of state roads and record education funding.
As a member of the Public Safety and Judiciary Subcommittee on Appropriations, I will be working specifically on nine agencies that include the courts and public safety agencies. Then the subcommittees bring their individual spending bills to the General Conference Committee on Appropriations (GCCA). As a member of this committee also, I will be able to view and amend all the appropriation bills before they go to the House floor for an up or down vote. However, very few bills are amended at that level since there has already been an agreement with the Senate on spending levels.
The GCCA has more than 170 bills on which to act. Eighty-five bills out of the 170 total bill will address the total amount of dollars that each state agency receives. A separate bill is required for each agency that details how dollars will be spent.
The conference committee process is also going on at the same time the budgeting process is progressing. If a bill was passed in one chamber but was amended in the other chamber, then the bill must go to conference committee. This process allows the Senate and House author to agree on language for the bill and then get a majority of the conferees to agree to the language. If a majority of conferees for both chambers agree, then the bill is brought to each chamber for a vote. The bill may not be amended, but must have a simple up or down vote.
This process bypasses many of the safeguards that are built into the legislative process. Usually, a bill is scrutinized by voters, people within an industry, and those affected by the bill. This allows for input to the legislators about its effects. This process is effectively by passed in the conference committee process. Many times the first time people are aware of some of these bills are after the vote is taken on the floor and the bill is headed to the governor's desk.
Two worker's compensation bills are in conference committee right now. The final form of the bill will not be know until a couple of days before the vote on the bill is taken. Although the Senate killed the House bill that was sent to their chamber, the bills still alive provide a vehicle for the bill to progress. Although this is not the best avenue for legislation, it is imperative that true workers compensation reform occurs this session.
The adage is true that half the work is done the last two weeks of the session. That means that the next two weeks will be very busy.
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