What is a Conference Committee?
If one version of a bill comes out of the Senate, and another version comes out of the House of Representatives, it poses a problem: only one version can go off to the Governor for consideration. As a result, unless one of the chambers agrees to the other’s version, the bill moves into the conference process. For each bill that reaches this point, members of both chambers can be appointed by the Senate President and the House Speaker in order to come to agreement on a final version. The members are often called “managers” or “conferees.” The conference committee chairs are usually the subject matter committee chairs for a given measure (typically the bill’s first committee referral).
Note: We may speak of “the conference committee for HB123” but we’re actually talking about TWO committees… the House conference committee for HB123 and the Senate conference committee for HB123. They meet together – to discuss, confer, and make decisions – but the votes are taken separately, and each committee must meet its chamber’s quorum requirements.
Tidbit: House Rule 16.2 (3) specifies that any Representative who has voted against a measure on 3rd reading will not be eligible to serve on the conference committee for that measure. This is one of the reasons that a legislator in opposition to a measure may choose to vote ‘aye with reservations’ rather than against the measure. In this way, that person can still be eligible to serve on the conference committee and can then attempt to have input on the bill’s final form, or work to prevent a final compromise from being reached.
Can the Public Testify?
The public has had opportunities to testify during committee hearings. Conference, on the other hand, is the time when legislators work out compromises among themselves. They’ll be crafting the final language and logistics of the bills.
Meetings are open to the public though no testimony is accepted, and, except for the budget bills, no new subject matter should be inserted. You may find it helpful to attend the meetings in order to follow the discussions, and to prioritize and assess what additional info to offer conferees.
Where Can I Stay Informed About Conference Committee Actions?
The bill’s status sheet will be updated as its conferees are assigned, and meetings scheduled. While the conference procedures* usually specify a minimum notice for posting notice of the first meeting, subsequent meetings can be convened just a few hours later. The procedures will specify what constitutes a required quorum for a vote to be taken. Legislators may serve on numerous conference committees and scheduling votes can be a challenge for legislative staff.
*Conference committee procedures are usually agreed upon in early April. Once available, they usually are first posted under Recent Updates in the center of the Legislature’s website, and also filed on the Legislative Information page.
There are many helpful tools for staying on top of conference – go to the Reports and Lists page of the Legislature’s website, and click on the Conference Committee bar. You’ll be able to quickly find measures, legislators, and summary reports during conference.
How Can I Advocate at This Stage?
- You may want to contact the conference members independently; concisely communicate what aspect of the bill you believe is a “must have” or an “absolutely not” to any final version they come up with. Be ready to answer any questions they may have.
- You may also want to ask your own Senator or Representative for assistance in influencing the legislation.
- You may want to encourage constituents from the conferees’ districts to communicate with their legislators about the legislation.
What’s the Deadline for the Conference Committee to Come to a Decision?
Final decking for non-fiscal bills is April 22, 2021. For fiscal bills, it’s April 23, 2021. That means any conference draft or decision on final form must be delivered to the House and/or Senate Chief Clerk by then (placed on the clerks’ “decks” or desks). This allows the required 48-hour notice for final readings to take place on April 27th or April 29th … the last two session days of the 2021 Regular Session. (Time flies!) [Note: Fiscal bills are those which received referrals to the Senate Ways and Means committee and/or the House Finance committee.]
Final Decking and Governor’s Timeline
Final decking is the deadline for bills to be in their final form and available for review by the members of the House and Senate at least 48 hours prior to final reading. This deadline applies to bills amended by the non-originating chamber and whose differences have been resolved – either by the conference committee coming up with a new draft, or the originating chamber’s conferees subsequently voting to agree with the non-originating chamber’s draft.
Usually, there are two separate final decking deadlines: the “non-fiscal” deadline applies to non-financial bills; the “fiscal” deadline applies to all bills with financial implications. (Quick check: if the bill was referred to WAM or FIN, it’s “fiscal.”) Under the final decking process, once a bill is “decked,” it is put on the calendar for final reading in the House and/or Senate. Final reading may take place up until April 29th, the last day of session (adjournment sine die.)
Important Timelines (Final Step for a Bill to Become a Law)
If a bill successfully passes through both chambers of the Legislature, it needs to be presented to the Governor. (Unless it proposes a constitutional amendment, in which case it gets put on the ballot for the electorate to decide its fate.)
The procedure for enactment, which is defined in Article III, Section 16 of the Hawaii State Constitution, varies depending on when the bill is delivered to the Governor and the Governor’s subsequent action or inaction in considering the bill. (In computing the number of days designated below, the following days are excluded: Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, and any days in which the Legislature is in recess prior to its adjournment.) The following information is based on adjournment sine die occurring on April 29, 2021.
If the bill is sent to the Governor on or before April 8, 2021 (10 or more days before adjournment of the Legislature sine die), then:
- If the Governor signs the bill within 10 days, the bill becomes law and is given an Act number.
- If the Governor neither signs nor vetoes the bill within 10 days, the bill becomes law without the Governor’s signature and is given an Act number.
- If the Governor vetoes the bill within 10 days, the bill does not become law unless the Legislature reconsiders the bill before adjournment sine die and overrides the veto by a 2/3 vote in each chamber.
If the bill is sent to the Governor after April 8, 2021 (less than 10 days prior to adjournment sine die), then:
- If the Governor signs the bill by July 6, 2021 (the 45th day after adjournment sine die), the bill becomes law and is given an Act number.
- If the Governor neither signs nor vetoes the bill by July 6, 2021 (the 45th day after adjournment sine die), the bill becomes law without the Governor’s signature and is given an Act number.
- If the Governor intends to veto the bill, the Governor must inform the Legislature by June 21, 2021 (the 35th day after adjournment sine die) and deliver the veto by July 6, 2021 (the 45th day after adjournment sine die). If the bill is vetoed, it will not become law unless the Legislature successfully overrides the veto in special session by a 2/3 vote in each chamber.* The Legislature must convene in special session at or before noon on July 6, 2021 to override the Governor’s veto.
* The legislature may also amend a bill to answer the governor’s objections. For it to become law, a majority of the members in each chamber would be required to vote in favor of the amended bill, and the governor would then have 10 days to sign it.
Note: The date that a bill goes into effect as law can be found in its last section.
PAR regularly holds workshops to offer an introduction to conference committees. View the PowerPoint presentation or check the workshops listings for upcoming workshops.