In any legislative session two bills MUST pass (the rest, however important, are optional). Those two bills are the budget and the revenue bills – the income and expenses for state government. Both bills originate in the House; slightly different versions of each were passed by both chambers, both went to committees of conference to iron out the differences, and the conference committee compromise was approved by both chambers. The final step is for the approved bill to return to the chamber where it originated. As of noon last Friday one critical step was missing: the Senate had not yet notified us of their action. Without the Senate taking that final step, the budget and revenue bills were “stuck” in the Senate, essentially being held hostage as negotiating leverage for action on other bills the Senate wanted to see.
This is politics as usual, part of the sausage making of legislating. Differences between the House and Senate had held up paid family leave and minimum wage bills for weeks; those bills are what the Senate was looking for leverage on by holding up the budget and tax bills.
Ironically, the Senate had passed a stronger minimum wage bill which the House weakened, and the House passed a stronger family leave bill which the Senate weakened. Compromises were hard to find; veto-proof majorities were harder yet, and the governor wasn’t forthcoming on whether he would veto these bills or not, as he ultimately did when we passed them last year.
Things reached a head on Friday morning when House Speaker Mitzi Johnson had had enough of fruitless negotiations and released an open letter to Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe. In it she stated that the House had offered compromises, the Senate had not and that, a week into expensive overtime, we were at an impasse. She offered five compromise positions and told the Senate to chose one by noon or the House would adjourn for the year.
The Senate did not respond until about 2:30 when they sent over the revenue bill and a couple others that had passed all but the final step. The Speaker and Pro Tem The Speaker reiterated her intention to adjourn. Democrats were solidly behind her. Republicans were in full agreement since they never supported those bills in the first place. Only Progressives offered any opposition, preferring to stay a little longer and pass those two bills.
However, the Senate had not yet sent over the approved budget (remember that a bill needs to end in in the originating chamber). So the House Human Service Committee quickly passed a Senate bill on something, it came to the House floor where a “strike all” amendment erased the original language of the bill and replaced it with the approved conference committee report on the budget. The Republicans agreed to suspend rules to allow full passage and the budget was sent “home” to the Senate, now as a Senate bill.
As the House was adjourning the Senate sent over the approved budget followed quickly by compromise positions on the minimum wage and paid family leave bills. The Speaker would have none of it and the House adjourned until January. The Senate then adjourned until Wednesday.
This created a new and unprecedented conflict, in that adjournment MUST be a joint resolution with the House and Senate agreeing to the same date. So the House is, but isn’t, adjourned and the minimum wage and paid family leave bills are on the table for action in January, or on Tuesday.
Of course the Senate has an alternative perspective on events, different media outlets are reporting different views, and there are intense political calculations involved that I have not touched upon in this update. When the dust has settled and we are finally and collectively adjourned I will send a final update on the session.