Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Budget and Bills

February 18, 2020

Now that the House and Senate money committees have each passed a budget, what happens? The budgets are actually bills that will go through the regular bill process. There are two bills in each body: a caboose budget bill that finishes up our current fiscal year (FY20) that runs through June 30, and the biennial budget bill for fiscal years 21 and 22. In the House these bills are HB29 (Caboose budget) and HB30 (Biennial budget). In the Senate they are SB29 and SB30. Since the budget bills have already been reported from their committees, they will go to the floor later this week. Until then, the staff for each committee (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) will hold briefings on the budget bills for members of each body ahead of any voting on the floor. The bills will then go to the floor where there will be a debate of the bills and, ultimately a vote to pass the bills and cross them over to the other body.

The budget bills are the only bills that can be debated and acted upon in the body of origin after cross over. Each budget bill will, however, crossover to the other body for consideration and debate. The House will reject the Senate budget bills, and the Senate will reject the House budget bills, and that will “force” a conference. Conference is used for any bills that are similar and the same Code section, but there are differences in the version adopted by the House and Senate. Many bills go to conference each session, but the budget conference is what all folks will be watching. Ultimately there will be 6 budget conferees named in the House and 6 in the Senate and these 12 very powerful legislators will decide the final budget that will go to the Governor for his signature. Sunday’s budget reveals are only part of the story. Many groups will be contacting the budget conferees to express the priorities they would like to see funded in the final budget. The VEA is among these groups. Until the budget conferees are named, we will be contacting the leaders of the money committees to express our opinions on the bills. Be on the lookout for information on how to get involved.

The other, non-budget, thing that is happening is final action on bills. Tuesday, we were working three different bills, two of which will likely go to conference. All three are in different postures (where they are in relation to passage), are very different content and Code section, and each has a different set of partners with whom we are working. One of the bills is a VEA bill that hit a glitch in subcommittee Monday, but all is good after lots of work Tuesday. These final days of bill work are exhausting and challenging. Literally your brain turns on and off in the bill numbers, content, and conversation minute to minute. Today was the kind of day where I was texting on one bill, taking a call with a partner on another, and meeting with different partners on another, all the while responding to patrons tracking you down to see where we are on the bill. Fatigue is always a factor the last weeks of session, but those of us in this work know that until the gavel goes down Sine Die, you need to be ready for anything.