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The second year of a legislative session is often referred to as a “short session”. Limited to 60 legislative days, time is a valuable commodity. With adjournment scheduled in mid-April, the Legislature will be holding session into the late nights for the next several weeks. With many important issues yet to receive first round debate and a budget modification bill that has failed two cloture votes to end debate, time is of even greater importance.
By legislative rule, the budget must be advanced to the Governor by legislative day 50, which is Tuesday, March 27. The failure of the second cloture vote on Select File prohibits that from occurring. The Legislature will have to suspend the current rules to complete our budget modification process, which will take 30 votes. Additionally, the budget will require 33 votes to pass with the “emergency clause”. Normally a bill will become effective law 90 days after it is signed into law by the Governor. When a bill is passed with the emergency clause, it takes effect upon being signed. Because of the delays in the budget advancement by a minority of senators, if the budget fails to pass with 33 votes it cannot take effect before the end of the fiscal year.
While most of the focus of the current budget bill has been on the reductions needed to respond to decreases in state revenue, the bill also includes very important appropriations to meet increased needs. Most significant is an additional $30 million to meet the expenses associated with child welfare programs. The state has experienced an unprecedented increase in the number of at-risk children requiring placement outside of their home to protect their health and safety. The program will run out of funds by May and will be unable to pay those foster parents and other caregivers until the modified budget takes effect in July.
In addition to the budget, any tax reform bill has yet to be debated on the floor. There are another group of non-controversial bills, known as Consent Calendar bills that have not been addressed by the body. Consent calendar bills are bills critical to address non-controversial but important changes to existing laws.
The increasing trend toward extended debate and use of the filibuster has consumed a significant portion of the legislative session. Cloture is a procedural motion to end debate and allow votes on the substance of a bill. In order to invoke cloture 33 of the 49 senators must vote to end debate. This two-thirds majority is among the highest thresholds in the country. The center of the rules discussion last session was to address the cloture issue.
Unfortunately, many issues have not even seen a vote on the bill, up or down, because of the inability to gain a two-thirds majority. In essence, current legislative rules and procedure have effectively created a supermajority requirement to pass any substantive legislation. Because of the time requirement involved in cloture, the time spent on extended debate consumes time for debate and passage of other legislation.