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Final Negotiations on Budget Begin

Sue Lincoln
Cameron Henry stops to chat with fellow House member

“I would ask that you reject House Bill 1 and sent it to conference.”

And, as usual, the House has refused to concur with the Senate changes to the budget, HB 1, but Appropriations chairman Cameron Henry says that’s a normal part of the process: “House Bill 1 always goes to conference.”

Henry is referring to a conference committee -- three House members and three Senate members that negotiate compromises on disagreements over the terms in a bill. He says the House has rules that designate the eligible conference committee delegates.

“The author, the chairman of the committee, and then someone else from the committee – usually somebody from the opposition,” Henry explains, ticking them each off on his fingers.

In the case of the budget bill, the author and the committee chair are one-and-the-same, so the Speaker becomes one of the conferees. Henry says, with the speaker’s consent, the third member of the HB1 committee is also set.

“I have always asked Representative Pat Smith to be that third member,” he says of the Baton Rouge Democrat. “We represent completely different constituencies, but at the end of the day, if we can balance it out to where we’re both comfortable with it, then we really should cover every part of the state.”

But Henry says, contrary to what it seems, it’s not just the six conferees deciding the fate of the budget.

“This is the frustrating part for this administration and for the senators who have been here for – some of them have been here longer than I’ve been alive,” Henry says, clearly making a reference to Senate President John Alario, “Is that I go downstairs to the Republican delegation, and say, ‘Okay folks. This is where we are. They want to move x amount of dollars here. They want to take a few dollars from this. They like this policy change. Where does everybody fit?’ We debate something. We discuss it within the group.

“And that’s how the process is designed,” Henry continues. “It’s not designed to have one person be able to speak for all the Republicans, or one person to speak for all the Democrats.”

This time, though, the compromise – if there is one – will determine whether a special session starts right after this session ends tomorrow night.