Legislators are working this week as final negotiations continue in conference committees. Conference committees are a unique step in the legislative process designed to allow different versions of a bill to be reconciled into a final agreed upon form. We thought an explanation of conference committees might be in order here.
What is a conference committee?
Bills which have passed their house of origin, but were amended by the opposite chamber must return to the house of origin to allow the author to review the changes. If an author is unsatisfied with changes and the house of origin dissents, an agreement must be negotiated between the two different versions of the bill in a joint House-Senate conference committee.
A conference committee is a temporary group with four appointed members, or conferees: a member of each party from the Senate and member of each party from the House. Other legislators also can be appointed as advisors to the conference committee, but the approval of advisors is not necessary for the bill to move forward.
Conference committee meetings are open to the public, and a one hour public notice must be given before a meeting convenes. During the meeting(s), legislators may take public testimony, discuss differences in the language, and consider proposed compromises. The resulting compromise takes the form of a conference committee report, which must be signed by each of the four conferees in order for the bill to move forward for a final vote in each chamber. Over the course of negotiations, multiple conference committee reports may be drafted.
Once signed by the four conferees, a conference committee report is filed in each chamber and put to a final vote. If approved by both chambers, a conference committee report is signed by the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House, then sent to the governor for his signature into law or veto.