We’ve been saying for some time that the 2016 legislative session will be fast and furious. As we get closer to the March 8 start date, the calendar is coming into focus as legislative leaders set committee deadlines. While generally considered “inside baseball,” committee deadlines do give a hint to the overall pace of work and intentions of legislative leaders. This year’s committee deadlines can charitably be described as “aggressive.”
The first committee deadline is April 1, a mere three weeks after the start of session. This means that all bills need to receive a hearing in either a House or Senate committee before that date to continue to be considered. The second deadline is just a week after that on April 8; bills that met the first deadline must have a hearing in the opposite chamber by this date. The third deadline is April 21. By this date, any finance and budget bills need to pass the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committees, respectively, and be on the way to the Senate or House floors for action by the full chambers. By this time, each side will have staked out their negotiating positions on any supplemental budget.
What makes this year unusual, however, is that the tax and transportation bills are already in conference committee as a result of last year’s failure to take action on these two items, which means that most of the money on the table is already in play. It is unlikely that the House and Senate will pass new tax and transportation bills, but rather will continue to work off the bills that made it to conference committee last year.
Add on top of this compressed timeline planned legislative breaks around Easter in late March and Passover in late April, and the fact that the Legislature likely won’t work most Fridays, and there is an especially limited time to transact business at the Capitol this session. It is possible that legislative committees may hold hearings before session starts, but other than the bonding committee tours over the last couple of months, there are no indications of much of this kind of activity.
The bottom line is that legislative proposals will need to be refined and lobbying started immediately to have a chance of success in 2016.