The timetable for debating the budget in the House is,in short, amendments due by Friday at 5, debate starts Monday 4/23, amendments pertaining to spending will be considered only in third reading (meaning that revenue amendments would be heard only in second reading — but there probably won’t be any of those).
below find a draft of the budget deliberations in the
4th edition of Lobbying on a Shoestring.
After the Joint Hearings held with Senate W&M, House W&M writes a budget and reports it to the full House, usually in mid-April (and, under the rules, not later than the second Wednesday in May). Under House rules, the HWM budget must be available at least seven days before the day scheduled for House debate. (These rules can, of course, be suspended, as can any other rule).
The House budget generally follows the format of the Governor’s budget (described above). But both the House and Senate budgets typically contain much more detailed language to accompany the line items — limitations, restrictions, or con¬ditions under which funds can be spent.
House Floor Action
On the House floor, the budget follows a procedure that is outlined in the House Rules, which of course, is subject to amendment on a moment’s notice. According to those rules at this writing (spring of 2018), members file their amendments to the budget within three days of the release of the House W&M budget. Debate is usually scheduled for 10 days after amendments are filed. During those 10 days the House Clerk and the House W&M staff jointly categorize all the amendments by subject matter – environment, child protection, local aid, etc. into a huge document to be posted on the legislative website before debate.
At the same time, the House Ways and Means staff works with House Leadership to develop a draft consolidated amendment for each subject matter category listing all the amendments approved (and sometimes changed) by House leadership.
The day before the debate begins, the budget bill is ordered to a third reading, thus skipping over one opportunity to debate the thousand or so amendments.
The debate during the third reading of the House budget does not take place on the House floor. In fact, “debate” as you might think of it, does not take place at all. Instead, House members must negotiate their amendments, subject matter by subject matter, with House W&M chair and staff in a private room outside the chamber.
From time to time, during the three days of budget deliberations, the Chair announces that those members interested in higher education (or human services, or the environment or local aid) should proceed to room 348 in ten minutes.
Members who hope their amendments are included in the draft consolidated amendment proceed to room 348 and pick up one of the fat single spaced documents listing each amendment that has been approved by leadership, including any changes leadership may have made. Everyone crowds around the HW&M chair and staff asking for clarification and advocating for changes. Some legislators come out of the room to ask advice from lobbyists and advocates, and some march into the chamber to ask leadership to intervene on their behalf with W&M.
Eventually the HW&M staff pick up their notes and go back to their offices to make any approved changes to the draft consolidated amendment.
Sometimes hours or a day later, after further private negotiation with leadership, House W&M finalizes each consolidated amendment and piles 160 copies of a fat document on a table on the floor of the House.
The Chair announces that debate on the consolidated amendment on higher education (or human services, or the environment or local aid) will be put forward for a vote in 10 minutes. House members grab a copy to see if their own amendment survived or was amended, sometimes coming out to the lobby to consult with lobbyists and advocates. Eventually, a representative for the leadership – often the chair of the committee of the subject matter under consideration – will describe the consolidated amendment and take questions from the floor. Often grateful members will stand to praise the balanced and forward-thinking amendment, and others will predict disaster and doom for critical programs.
Eventually, on a motion from the Leadership at the podium, the consolidated amendment passes – sometimes unanimously, sometime with a small symbolic no vote from the minority party.
Occasionally, a disappointed or angry member will make a motion to debate their failed amendment and offer it on the floor to make a point. Knowing the leadership will stand in opposition, the member does not demand a roll call, in order to spare colleagues from voting against the leadership.
The House debate process, which at one time took two weeks of round the clock sessions featuring lively item-by-item debates, late night stunts, songs and shenanigans is now finished in three days in lengthy twelve hour (or longer) sessions featuring long recesses while lobbyists and advocates wait for the next “debate” of consolidated amendments.
This blog is cross posted on https://www.facebook.com/Massachusetts-Policy-and-Organizing-Leadership-Academy-323862294312903/