The House deadline for filing bills passed last week. At the beginning of last week, there were nearly 600 bills filed in the House since the start of the session in January. By the end of last week, over 900 bills were pending in the House. In other words, one-third of the total number of bills filed were filed in just one week.
The next deadline is the “crossover” deadline. With some exceptions, a bill will remain eligible to pass in the long session (in other words, this year) only if it is passed in either the House or the Senate by April 30. So, for a Senate bill or a House bill to become law this year, the bill needs to be approved in their respective chambers in the next 10 days. Bills that don’t make the April 30 deadline generally can’t be passed this year. However, if the bill passes one of the chambers by the end of this session, they are eligible to be taken up next year.
So what is going to happen over the next 10 days?
Both House and Senate committees are going to hold meetings and try to clear as many bills as possible — anything that leadership feels needs consideration this year. If the past is any indication, some bills will pass with their sponsors promising to “fix” the bill when it gets over to the other body. Of course, that doesn’t always get done. Once a bill passes over to the other body, that chamber may decide to significantly change the bill in ways the sponsor of the bill may not expect. Any number of bill sponsors have appeared at a committee meeting to find out a proposed committee substitute (or “PCS”) has been drafted and that the PCS is what is going to be heard.
Last year, I was chairing a Judiciary Committee meeting that was supposed to take up a minor bill dealing with motorcycle safety, and I’d assured the Senator the night before that we’d be hearing her bill. However, leadership changed the bill and added provisions relating to abortion to the bill. Thus, we ended up with a motorcycle safety/abortion bill and got a lot of ridicule for that one.
The public doesn’t understand how this could happen, and it is almost impossible for a legislator to explain the process when deadlines are looming. In fact, it is sometimes nearly impossible for a legislator to even follow the process.
This happened to me last week
The Environment Committee published its calendar, and I studied the legislation on the calendar. Since one of my bills, House Bill 571 [Implementation Carbon Dioxide Regulations] was on the calendar, I was outside of the meeting room talking with someone interested in the bill when the meeting began. A bill was added to the calendar, HB638 [Capitalize on Wetlands Mitigation]. There was no bill summary prepared by staff, and with most of the committee members not in the room, the bill received a favorable recommendation and will be on the House floor tonight.
HB638 may be a perfectly good bill, but no one can seriously argue that it got real committee consideration. I’ll ask a few questions about the bill when it comes to the floor, but it is frustrating that one can do one’s job by preparing for a committee meeting and still get surprised when new bills are taken up with no notice to anyone. And HB571 (my Carbon Dioxide Regulations bill) received a full hearing (with lots of questions) before receiving a favorable committee recommendation and passing the House late last night by 84 to 33.
I added to the bill crunch by filing several bills:
House Bill 625 [Brewery Law Revisions]. A bill to make some rather minor changes to our alcoholic beverages laws sought by the craft brewing industry. For example, beer sold at the brewery is included in the computation of how much beer a brewer has self-distributed. Currently, there is a 25,000 gallon cap, and it makes no sense that beer sold at the brewery (usually at a bar or restaurant operated by the brewery) goes towards the computation of a craft brewer’s cap.
House Bill 646 [Insurance Coverage for Autism Treatment]. This is a bill similar to the bill filed by Senator Apodaca to mandate insurance coverage for autism. HB646 provides somewhat broader coverage than Senate Bill 676 [Autism Health Insurance Coverage]. Having talked to Senator Apodaca, we’ve agreed that we’ll move his bill first, and when the Senate bill crosses over then we’ll try to resolve some of the differences between the bills.
House Bill 647 [Epi-Pens in All Child-Serving Businesses]. The bill would make epinephrine auto-injectors available to a wide range of child-serving entities — camps, zoos, etc. — for severe allergic reactions. The bill is actually broader because restaurants serve both adults and children. The bill doesn’t mandate anything — just makes the epinephrine auto-injectors available providing liability protection if they are used during a medical emergency. This bill moved very quickly. It was heard in the Health Committee on Thursday and was passed on the House floor last night by a margin of 115 to 1.
House Bill 648 [Prohibit Toxic Flame Retardants in Bedding]. The bill title says it all — the focus is chemicals in bedding, particularly bedding used by children. This bill got multiple committee referrals, and this is a very clear signal that House leadership wants to go slowly with this bill (unlike the epinephrine bill).
House Bill 706 [Building Code/Open Air Cabins]. This is a bill sought by the summer camp operators. Increasingly, they are being forced to build camp cabins that are more like Holiday Inn rooms than camp cabins. It is the unintended consequences of the tightening of building codes.
In addition to these bills, I also am a primary cosponsor of the 2015 Governor’s Budget (House Bill 940). My co-sponsorship of the bill should not be read as my agreement with the budget in its entirety. Rather, it reflects my position as an Appropriations chair and the courtesy extended to the Governor by the filing of his budget. Everyone wants to know when the budget process will start in earnest. It will get moving quickly once we receive final revenue numbers around May 1.
Since essentially all of the bills that will be filed are now filed, folks are beginning to review the approximately 1,650 pending bills. At this point, House members aren’t paying much attention to Senate bills, and senators aren’t paying much attention to House bills. House members and senators are trying to push those bills that they believe need to become law this year through their respective chambers — making sure they are eligible to be heard and become law this year.