Last night, the Senate passed their version of the budget with a 23-10 vote. Because the Senate’s version does not match the House’s previously passed version, the FY 16-17 budget now moves into what is called a Conference Committee. So what is a Conference Committee and what is it charged with doing? The following article answering these questions was published in the July/August 2005 issue of Ohio Matters.
In Ohio, Conference Committees are governed by joint rules adopted by the House and Senate. Prior to the 1970s, Conference Committees met behind closed doors. Much like the white smoke that rises from the Vatican when a new Pope is elected, once agreement was reached the doors would swing open, the conferees would emerge and their report would be taken to the full House and Senate for concurrence. There wasn’t even an appearance of public involvement.
Today, most of the work of Conference Committees still occurs behind closed doors. But once an agreement is reached, the amendments that make up the Conference Committee’s report are formally adopted during a public session. After the Conference Committee approves its report, it must lie over at least one day before it receives consideration by the House or Senate.
Unless otherwise ordered by both houses, Conference Committees are composed of three members of the Senate and three members of the House. Two of the appointees of each house come from the majority party and one appointee of each house comes from the minority party.
If a House bill, or resolution is under consideration, the first-named House member chairs the Conference Committee. Likewise, if a Senate bill or resolution is under consideration, the first-named Senate member chairs the Conference Committee.
At least a majority of the Senate members and a majority of House members must agree on all questions decided by a Conference Committee.
Whenever a Conference Committee fails to reach a decision, another Conference Committee may be appointed. Once a Conference Committee report is issued, it must be voted up or down by a majority of both the House and the Senate. It cannot be amended, laid on the table, referred to a committee or indefinitely postponed. It must be voted on as a whole.
If either the House or Senate disagrees with the report, it can notify the other body of its disagreement and request that another Conference Committee be appointed. If the disagreeing body does not request a new Conference Committee, the existing committee may propose another report.
The committee’s charge is to reconcile the difference between the House and Senate passed versions of a specific bill or resolution. Its first order of business is to decide which bill it will work from. Once that is decided, the committee adopts amendments to that bill reflecting the agreements reached.
The Conference Committee’s report includes any amendments pertinent to the bill or resolution, provided they relate exclusively to the original matters of difference between the two bodies. Once a majority of both the House and Senate agree to a Conference Committee report, the bill is enrolled and is sent to the governor for his signature.
The members who have been appointed to the budget Conference Committee are:
Sen. Scott Oelslager (R), Sen. Bill Coley (R), Sen. Mike Skindell (D)
Rep. Ryan Smith (R), Rep. Kirk Schuring (R), Rep. Denise Driehaus (D)
The power of the Conference Committee cannot be underestimated. They are a necessary part of the public policy process and vest enormous responsibility and authority in the hands of a few key legislators.