The “unfinished business” chapter of this year’s legislative session appears to be nearing its end. Over the past several months, we have seen a surge of carryover issues from the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. Class action reform, the low carbon fuel standard extension removal, voter registration and central assessment were all remnants of past sessions that are now completed. While there remain a select few remaining matters from the past to address, such as the measures proposed to gun control and the state-local economic development partnership known as Gain Share, the next chapter is about to begin.
Now that old business has been addressed, legislators are launching into conversation over the “big ticket” policies that were the basis of Democratic campaigns. These policies include a statewide paid sick leave policy, increasing the minimum wage, infrastructure funding, mental health reform and a response to the looming reality of a $350 million or greater budget shortfall for the next biennium, which could trigger some difficult conversations about tax increases. The Joint Ways and Means Committee passed out the budget on Thursday, and next week will likely include a great deal of posturing between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats’ position is that schools need a measure of certainty to prepare budgets. On the other hand, Republicans will say that $7.3 billion is just not enough to help our schools.
There is only one month left before the first chamber-of-origin deadline, and several of the largest agency budgets are in the final throes of negotiation. Time is quickly running out to address major policies in their originating chamber. Consequently, emotions are running rampant in the building. You can sense the urgency on the faces of legislators and lobbyists, and in the increasing level of intensity people are conducting themselves during policy negotiations.
Capitol insiders joke that you can almost see the tension in the air.