Wednesday, March 4, 2020

No Budget Yet; Senate Collective Bargaining Conferees Named

There is currently no indication that the conference budget is coming today, and even tomorrow looks unlikely. Today ,one of the House budget conferees commented that they are still working in small groups on smaller sections of the budget. Again, not a good indication that the conference budget will be available tomorrow. Here’s why that matters. Each body of the General Assembly adopts rules on how they will operate during the session. The House Rules on conference reports and the budget conference report are very clear:

Rule 75(c). Any conference committee on the Budget Bill will complete its deliberations and make the report of such conference available to the House as soon as practicable. The House will consider such conference report no earlier than 48 hours after receipt, unless the House determines to proceed earlier by a vote of two-thirds of the members voting. The conference report will clearly state the funding of any nonstate agencies, any item that was not included in the Budget Bill as passed by either house, and any provisions from legislation that failed during that session

That rule means that the conference budget will need to be available for at least 49 hours before there is a final vote on the budget. Yes, there is a 2/3 rule, but the usual process is 48 hours. If we don’t get a budget conference tomorrow (Thursday), the House can’t vote in time for the planned Saturday adjournment. When we see the conference budget, we still have 2 days left of session. Part of what is complicating the budget conferees coming to agreement is they have had limited time to actually meet and work through the budget. Both the House and Senate still have hundreds of bills to debate and hundreds of conference reports on many other bills still to hear. As Senate Finance Chair and Senate budget Conferee Janet Howell said yesterday on the floor, “The longer we are on the floor listening to long speeches and debate, the less time the budget conferees have to work on the conference budget.” She was urging the Senate to remain focused, not take bills by, and to work on all the other bill conference reports. I agree 100% with Senator Howell.

One of the hundreds of bills still to be debated is the House version of the Collective Bargaining bill, HB582. The bill will be on second read in the Senate tomorrow and up for passage on Friday. The bill will then go back to the House where they will reject the Senate Substitute and call for a conference. The Senate has already completed that work with SB939, and the House insisted on a conference. To get to conference, we need the Senate to ask for a conference committee to be named. The Senate bill conferees were named today, and they are Senators Saslaw, Barker, and Norment. Once the House conferees are named, the six legislators will work out a compromise. We will likely not see that conference report until Saturday or, if they go into overtime, Sunday. We will see. We are still working with the patrons on all the possible outcomes and trying to get the best bill we can out of conference. I knew this bill would be among the very last to be taken up for a final vote, and that is certainly the case.