Last week, the House and Senate put in some long days amending bills in committee and on the floor. Now, they’ll spend Monday, Tuesday and Thursday deciding if the membership of both chambers can agree on the amendments.
“This is the art of compromise,” said Sen. Frank Ginn, R-Danielsville. “The House has versions of bills out there, and the Senate has versions of bills. Really, this is where you put the ingredients together and hopefully you come out with the best bill.”
But even veteran legislators admit the rate that dozens of conference committees issue their reports can be hard to keep up with.
“That’s scary,” said Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. “On the last day when all these conference reports are flying on our desks, we pass some unstudied things with unintended consequences.”
Conferees can add anything they want to bills. Unlike many states, Georgia doesn’t limit them to provisions passed by the House or Senate, which means bills coming to a vote for final passage may contain wording that neither has ever seen or approved. Often, conferees revive provisions that committees voted to kill earlier in the session.
Lawmakers rely on the trust they have in the authors of bills – who almost always serve as conferees – to recount what the conference committee has done.
“You lean on those because you can’t be fully involved on every bill that’s down here,” Ginn said. “So, you have to hold some faith in the judgment of those that you’re working with.”
The most watched conference committee is the one dealing with the budget. The chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees both say there are few disagreements, largely because there isn’t much money to fight over.
Other major bills going to conference are those dealing with ethics, guns and investing in start-up, high-tech companies.
But Stephens, at least, is predicting the last night won’t be a long one as is typical.
“Personally, I think we’ll be out of here by 5 or 6 o’clock,” he said, acknowledging a reporter’s grin at his hopefulness. “I just don’t see the backlog of bills this year.”