Session Daily: It’s conference committee season

Session Daily: It’s conference committee season


House Speaker Kurt Daudt wants members who support an omnibus bill on a conference committee. Photo by Paul Battaglia, Session Daily

Source: Session Daily

By Ricky Campbell

Legislation packed with new or changing policies and billions in state-funded programs have made their way through the committee process, through both the House and Senate and, because of discrepancies in their wording and funding, now have to go through another similar cycle.

Because language in the House version differs from the Senate version in each of these omnibus bills, a new panel with up to 10 legislators, usually representing both parties, must determine what a final bill will look like before each chamber approves it and sends it to the governor. In the next few weeks, the legislative calendar is likely to be brimming with conference committees.

A conference committee consists of three to five members from each chamber — often called “conferees” — tasked with reconciling differences between House and Senate proposed legislation. It’s another round of committee-like work, with additional chances for outside input as legislators head into the session’s homestretch.

Joint rules outline what the conference committees can and can’t do. For instance, conference committees can’t schedule meetings between midnight and 7 a.m., but can vote to extend their meetings past midnight; or chairs must rotate between representatives and senators every calendar day.

Conference committees can’t appropriate more money than the initial bills or amendments included unless the House speaker and the Senate majority leader approve them. Additionally, conferees can’t add rulemaking power to agencies and departments unless they, too, were included in the House or Senate bill or amendments.

If conferees agree, a written report is published. The report returns to both the House and the Senate for votes, beginning with the original chamber.

“This process is designed to be inefficient and efficient at the same time,” Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) said. “Inefficient in the sense that you need to make sure everybody has a voice in it, but efficient in the sense that that’s why we have committees in the first place — to have people focus on one area and bring it to the body as a whole.”

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