What’s a conference committee?


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If this is your first state budget, you might be wondering about this thing called a conference committee. Actually, you might be wondering — now that the bill has passed the House and Senate, doesn’t the Governor just have to sign it for it to become law? Well, no, not quite. The Senate made changes to the House version of the budget (which itself was an amended version of the Governor’s budget), and the House refused to “concur” or accept those changes as the final version of the bill. By doing so, a requirement is triggered that a special committee be formed to work out the differences.

The conference committee is made up of four Republicans and two Democrats. That’s because each chamber—House and Senate—sends three members; two from the majority and one from the minority. Another party to the talks, though not officially, is the Governor’s office.

The first meeting of conferees is this Wednesday afternoon, and it will probably be the only time they meet publicly before a final agreement is reached. Behind the scenes, members of staff (not conferees themselves, to avoid triggering the state’s open meetings laws) hash out all the minor provisions in which the House and Senate differed. Leadership (Speaker Batchelder, President Niehaus and the Governor) will get involved in the big ticket items of difference. We’ll do another post on those items next.

The Governor’s office gets to weigh in, notifying legislators which version they prefer, indicating items they can live with, and playing coy or making overt veto threats about those they cannot. A few items which were in the Governor’s introduced budget, but removed by the legislature will be the priority for the executive branch in conference, trading promises not to veto other problematic provisions to get such items as the increase in employee pension contribution measure that was removed in the House.

The next time we will hear from conferees, other than strategic leaks to the media, is likely to be somewhere around the end of next week when all issues have been resolved and the Conference Committee submits an amended version of the bill for votes in both the House and Senate. Upon approval, the Governor then gets a few days to wield the veto pen before the bill heads to the Secretary of State and becomes law.

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  1. What are the big issues facing the Conference Committee? | Ohio Budget Watch

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