The legislature returns from its spring break today.  The legislative session ends at 6pm on May 13, 2011 leaving 34 legislative days to finish the work of the First Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly.

So far, nearly 1,500 bills, joint resolutions and resolutions have been filed.  The time to file bills in the Senate has expired and the last day to file bills in the House is Friday, April 1.

The primary focus in the last part of the session will be completing the budget. It’s actually the only thing that the legislature is required to do. The state constitution requires  that the budget be Truly Agreed and Finally Passed (TAFP) by close of business on May 6, 2011. So far it has been easy sailing in the House, which is likely to finish its initial work this week and pass it on to the Senate.  Many have asked about the budget process and how it works.

The governor presents to the General Assembly his proposed budget. This usually occurs at the State of the State address.  The governor provides his proposed budget bills to the House Budget Chair.

The state constitution does not require that budget bills originate in the Missouri House but it has been a long held tradition.  When I was budget chair and making some changes to the way “we’ve always done it” – the Senate rumbled that they would introduce the budget.  There was nothing constitutionally or legally stopping them from doing so but they understood that wasn’t going to work, and a “crisis” was averted.

The House Budget Chairman introduces the budget bills.  Since 2003, the Budget Chair has introduced a different version than the governor’s proposed budget. I’ll be writing about the change in the process in future blog postings.

The House has several appropriations committees that the 13 operational budget bills are assigned to by the speaker of the House.  These committees review, conduct public hearings and recommend changes.  Once the appropriations committees have accomplished their review and made recommendations, the bills go on to the Budget Committee.

The Budget Committee receives the reports from the Appropriations committee chairmen and then decides what changes it wants to adopt to each bill.  In the past, anyone could make an amendment to add money to a bill without concern about whether the money was actually available. This process was changed in 2002 and subsequently made a permanent part of House rules. Now if a representative wants to add general revenue  to a line item, he or she must first take (cut) it from somewhere else.  This revised process has worked well and provided restraint in the budget process both practically and politically.

The Budget Committee makes its changes and passes out the House Committee Substitute that goes on to the Rules Committee.  The Rules Committee has generally assigned a time limit for debate on the budget bills.  Experience has shown that six hours of floor time provides adequate time for discussion and amendments.  By the time the budget hits the floor, almost every representative has had some opportunity to discuss the budget in appropriations or budget committee.

The Senate has one budget committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee.  While the House is doing its work on the budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee will conduct public hearings on the governor’s proposed budget and begin its own decision making process in preparation for receiving the bills from the House.

The Senate Appropriation Committee will make changes to the House version over the next couple of weeks. The committee will then adopt a Senate Committee Substitute and send it to the floor. Traditionally the Senate makes no changes on the floor, although the last few years some amendments have been offered.

Once the Senate passes its version of the budget, each chamber will appoint five members each to serve on a conference committee where the differences between the two versions will be worked out. There are two “products” that come from the conference committee work.  The Conference Committee Report (CCR) and the Conference Committee Substitute (CCS).

The CCR is a one page sheet that is basically a signature page for all the conferees to sign.  It does not take all of the conferees to approve the CCS, but it does take a majority (thee) from both chambers to sign the CCR. The CCS is the actual bill representing the work of the conference committee.

The CCR and CCS will be first taken up in the House.  The CCR will be either adopted or rejected.  If the CCR is adopted, the CCS will be “third read” and passed by the House and Truly Agreed and Finally Passed by the Senate.  The budget bills will then be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The state’s fiscal year begins on July 1, 2011. The governor has 30 days to sign, not sign – which means the bills become law without his signature – line item veto or veto any or all the bills.  Line item vetoes and bill vetoes are communicated to the General Assembly via a letter from the governor outlining the reasons for veto.  Gubernatorial actions on budget bills usually take place after the legislature has adjourned.

If the governor were to veto a bill or line item veto any portion of a bill while the legislature was still in session, that veto could immediately be taken up for consideration of an override.  Otherwise, line item vetoes are only considered during the constitutionally mandated veto session in September.

The veto of a complete bill would likely result in a special session in June.  The governor can call the legislature into special session for a specific purpose, but he cannot tell them how to accomplish that purpose.  Governors usually do try to prsecribe how to achieve their desired outcome, but the legislature is not bound to do it in the manner he might describe.

It is unusual to have a budget bill vetoed.  Governor Holden vetoed four budget bills in 2003.  After two special sessions in June, he finally signed the four bills prior to the beginning of new fiscal year.  I’ll be writing more about those times in a future blog posting.

So, by May 6 we will know how our legislature proposes to spend around $23 billion of our tax dollars (federal and state).  You can get a good clue of the current proposals by going to either House.MO.Gov or Senate.MO.Gov and searching for HB1 through HB13.  There are other budget bills, such as supplemental budgets, capital, etc., but these bills make up the state’s operational budget.