Last week, the bills passed by the state House got assigned to state Senate committees and then to subcommittees while the House did the same with Senate bills. Some committees already have acted on the new crop of crossover bills, but most will do the heavy work this week.
That’s where the scalpel, needles and thread come in.
Lawmakers and lobbyists who saw bills they supported fall by the wayside after missing the March 7 crossover deadline, the date bills had to pass at least one legislative body to be considered this session by the other, are feverishly urging committees to attach the wording of those bills as amendments to living bills. At the same time, other legislators are voting in committee to remove unwanted provisions from bills.
A glimpse of what is happening in committee rooms across the Capitol popped up on the Senate floor Thursday when 13 amendments were offered to one bill, some adding and some subtracting words. Two amended another amendment. Half passed, and half were defeated.
A more frequent feature in the floor sessions this week will be the “agrees and disagrees,” where the authors of bills ask the whole House or Senate to either accept or reject the changes all that surgery created. Agreement sends the amended bill to Gov. Nathan Deal, who’ll have until May 7 to sign or veto them.
A “disagree” gives the other chamber the opportunity to recede from its position and accept the original version or insist on the changes, which sets up the need for a conference committee to negotiate the differences.
Agrees and disagrees happen fast, without debate, without an agenda and in any order. That forces legislators and observers to keep on their toes.
When conferees are appointed, conference committees start happening in committee rooms, private offices and even hallways all over the Capitol complex, with no meeting notices or announcements. Although they will be open to the public, the trick is learning about them in time to get there before a deal is struck. Most are over in minutes.
Capitol veterans consider this week the beginning of the most dangerous period, the time when the surgeons are at work.
Also this week will be consideration of resolutions to create temporary committees to study specific issues before next year’s session. The resolutions aren’t subject to the crossover deadline, so they’re usually saved until later.