Dorso Column: Last Legislative Days Bound To Be Interesting

After reviewing some of the legislation as it has passed the ND House or Senate I am finding some interesting differences. Just last week the senate voted down the appropriations bill for the State Auditor’s Office. They brought the bill back on Monday. Each house has the ability to bring back a piece of legislation within one legislative day after it last took action. It is called reconsideration. Sometimes the bill is then motioned to be held at the desk until the Maj. Leader decides to bring it up for debate and a another vote.

In this case I suspect it was a move intended to send a message to the House about the Senate Republicans’ dissatisfaction with something in the bill. The bill had to be brought back as the Auditor’s office is a constitutional agency that has to be funded. The Senate could have chosen to amend the bill and send it over to the house where I’m sure the senate amendments would have been rejected. At that point it would certainly have gone to a conference committee. Moves such as the defeat of the Auditor’s bill and its reconsideration are usually more a matter of the degree of dissatisfaction the senate caucus feels. There is no real strategic gain to be had with such a move.

This bill plus many others will end up in conference committee. At this point I don’t see many appropriations bills sailing through. Usually the major hang up on the majority of the bills is getting an agreement between the two houses on state employee’s salaries and benefits for the next biennium.

During my time as House Majority Leader, my counterpart Senator Nelson and I usually found compromise between ourselves and then with then-Governor Ed Schafer well before it came to this point in the legislative session. It then became a matter of convincing our respective caucus that they should adopt our recommendations. By getting that issue off the table we could pass a lot of the appropriation bills without having to take them to conference committee.

Most sessions that is not possible. As an example when the Senate was controlled by the Democrats we never got an agreement on salaries and benefits until the final days which then caused a flood of appropriations bills having short conference committees where the appropriate amendments were adopted and then sent to the floor of each house for final passage.

The NDUS or higher ed appropriations bill will also be very controversial. I see major differences between the House and Senate about the direction they would like to see the so-called system take. If amendments the House has added in committee pass on the floor most of you should expect a long and protracted conference committee to resolve the differences. It will be interesting to see who the respective Majority Leaders appoint to the conference committee. I suspect both leaders would like to avoid a confrontation between their members.

I talked about the rules conference committees operate under in my last column. One of the rules I didn’t go over was that the conference committee report which carries the bill must be agreed to by at least two members of each chamber. Thus if things go as usual two members of the senate majority caucus are going to have to come to an agreement with two members of the house caucus. Seldom do the votes of the minority member’s count in the conference committee. On these major bills the conferees will be in close contact with their respective Maj. Leaders. The majority leaders have to be sure that whatever agreement is reached can be passed by their majorities when brought to the floor.

In my book “When Governance Worked” I describe how House Republican Maj. Leader Strinden reached an agreement with Senate Democrat. Maj. Leader Heigaard on a bill that was to end the session concerning how revenue was to be counted in a biennium.

When the bill came to the House floor the Republican Majority rejected the committee report sending the bill back to conference. At that point Sen. Heigaard threw in the towel knowing he would never get his way on the revenue thus he had to agree to a reduction in spending. This all happened late on a Saturday evening when we were out of legislative days.

Hopefully the Republican majorities can avoid that kind of brinkmanship. That being said you are probably going to be treated to some interesting days as the legislature winds down the clock.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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