While media attention last week was focused on the budget battles in the Committees of Conference on House Bills 1 and 2, many other committees of conference were quietly at work.
Each conference is made up of two committees. The House has five conferees and the Senate has three. The Senate requires that one of its members must be from the minority party at the start of each conference.
Conferees meet to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill. The goal is to agree on the same language for the bill and "sign off" on a report. Conferences can last for just a few minutes or go on for days. Conferees must be unanimous in their decisions, and the outcomes can differ.
Sometimes conferees "agree to disagree" and depart the conference with no report to sign. The bill then dies. Most likely, agreement on language changes is made, a report drafted and conferees sign off. Sometimes the Speaker or Senate President replaces a conferee with a more compliant legislator to insure unanimous agreement on a bill.
Committee reports will come before both the House and Senate this week. No amendments are allowed, just a yes or no vote. Both chambers must approve the committee reports in order for the bills to move on to the Governor for his signature.
There were 39 bills including the two budget bills that ended up in a committee of conference. There were just six of those bills that did not survive and are now dead.
Apart from the budget bills, the only other committee of conference I was on dealt with House Bill 348. This bill started in the House and would have abolished the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission, and transferred that commission’s duties to the Lottery Commission.
Earlier this year, a bill I had introduced to update and make some improvements in the regulation of charitable gambling passed the Senate but was later put on the table over some confusion on one provision. When HB 348 came before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, we took out the original House language and replaced it with the regulatory language of the bill that was put on the table.
A few weeks of negotiations surrounded HB 348 before the Senate passed it a couple of weeks ago and the House called for a committee of conference because of the changes. Senator D’Allesandro (Manchester) joined me as a Senate conferee.
The four House conferees agreed that the Senate amendments were good but they now wanted to reduce the number of commissioners on the Racing and Charitable Gaming Commission from six to three. Senator D’Allesandro and I objected to the proposed change because the idea, without regard to its merits, had not had a public hearing. The Senate feels strongly about not passing laws that have not been discussed in public hearing.
House and Senate conference members agreed to disagree and away we went. Later in the day, the chair of the House conferees, Representative Ken Hawkins (Bedford) tracked me down and said the House leadership insisted that the House conferees agree with the Senate. The Speaker replaced Representative Hawkins and two other House members with new conferees who agreed to sign off on a report in favor HB 348. So a bill that came close to dying was revived and will become law.
The process is not always predictable or pretty, but generally speaking, the committee of conference process works well. It is just a little hard to explain with a straight face sometimes.
After seven months of work, including some loud and sharp words from committees of conference members, a vote was taken to agree on committee reports on the budget bills, House Bills 1 and 2. The final session, a day past Wednesday’s noon time deadline, took less than half an hour.
This week the House and Senate will vote to approve the two year budget for the biennium beginning on July 1. I will report on some of the implications of the budget next week but suffice it to say it has been a long and difficult struggle to get to an agreement. Concluding remarks after the final vote were emotional and sincere and signaled the relief felt by all that the biggest and most important bill of our two year legislature was completed.
With the summer break nearly upon us and the daily legislative work about over for a couple of months, it was a pleasure to join citizens of Newbury as they re-dedicated their Center Meeting House. The current building was built in 1832 with predecessor buildings going back decades earlier.
I have driven by the Center Meeting House hundreds of times on my way to Concord over the years and so have seen the construction process over nearly half a decade. What does not show up from the roadway is the hundreds of hours of volunteer effort to the plan, overseeing and raising money for the renovation. The state, too, played a role as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program made two grants of $100,000 each that were critical to raising the balance of the $1.4 million needed.
The completion of the renovations marks a new chapter in the history of Newbury and our region. And I am very appreciative for the opportunity to participate by presenting a commendation from Governor Lynch at the ceremony.
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