Today is the 26th day of the 60-day supplemental session. As we near the halfway point, we have reached the first policy cutoff of the session (February 2). Any bill not passed out of the policy committee in their respective chamber of origin is now considered dead. The week coasted into the cutoff with many policy committees canceling meetings. The tenor on the hill is that of a big deep sigh as members and stakeholders prepare for the marathon fiscal committee work set to take place next week.
Issues with the McCleary ruling still loom large as members are actively working towards a resolution (with varying reactions to different proposals) of this case that has been at the forefront of recent legislative sessions. The Court last Fall kept the state in contempt to ensure continued pressure towards holding the state accountable for fully funding basic education. Lawmakers are still looking for a solution, but big questions remain (particularly around state funding of teacher salaries) as to how to build that solution and implement it in a way that has a minimal impact on districts, taxpayers (there is lingering concern about the potential punitive impacts of recent tax proposals), and students during the transition to a new funding model. There is continued optimism on the campus that lawmakers will find a solution and be able to end the session on time on March 8th. However, only time will tell.
Our agency’s proposals and priorities are shaping up well as the session progresses. The technical correction bills (HB 2698 / SB 6388) addressing necessary changes in the work of the Paraeducator Board both made it past the first cutoff. In addition, changes were aligned to ensure that the same language is moving forward in both chambers. This will help prevent a potential conference committee in the final days of the session. While policy changes were aligned, the Senate companion (at this point) does not include elements connected to funding for the development of paraeducator modules spelled out in section 7 of the House version of the bill.
Teachable moment: bills that have companions in the opposite chamber (the same language, just different bill numbers) that reach the end of the legislative process reflecting different changes are subject to a Conference Committee. This process entails appointment of selected members (typically those that sponsored the original legislation) to a conference committee that reviews the changes and tries to find common agreement. Often, but not always, this is a technical step. However, it takes time and can serve as a tripping wire in the final days of session resulting in great legislation not being passed into law because there was not enough time or interest to dive into the details and ensure agreement. A great preventative measure is to ensure that any changes that occur to companion bills are introduced to both bills in both chambers, eliminating the need for a conference committee in the final days of the session.
The coming week will bring a laser-like focus on any bills that have a fiscal impact. The fiscal committees will likely hold many additional public hearings while taking testimony at lightning speed in order to make it through the upcoming Fiscal Cutoff. In addition, attention will be turned to floor action in the respective chambers as big policy issues will be taken up on the Senate and House floors. As always, if you have any questions about this report or other matters relating to the legislative process, please send those along directly to firstname.lastname@example.org