hostage season begins
(Week of May 7, 2002)
MAY 3, 2002 - - Now that the likelihood of new
bills getting approved has passed because of a May 1 deadline, the
scope of work before the House and Senate is much more narrow. What's
going to happen over the next five weeks is a nimble dance for positioning
on existing measures, most of which are jammed up in the 74-page-long
More than anything, the legislative hostage season
When the House and Senate pass different versions
of similar legislation, the proposals go to conference committee
for compromise. It's in that compromise process that bills get held
up, deals are cut and negotiators do a legislative dance to get
what they want in the final proposal.
Right now, two major bills effectively are being
- Truth-in-sentencing. House Speaker David
Wilkins really wants a law that would be truth-in-sentencing -
- having criminals serve 85 percent of the time they are sentenced.
The Senate version, however, calls only for criminals who were
sentenced to 15 years or more to qualify under the proposal. The
compromise position appears to be making the 85 percent threshold
apply to all felons. Currently, negotiators are trying to work
through equalizing sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine
as part of the bill. Sentences involving crack cocaine, a much
more addictive version of the drug, are lighter under current
law. Senate negotiators want to see the penalties equalized.
- Lottery expenditures. House and Senate
negotiators fundamentally differ on how to spend part of the millions
in lottery proceeds. Essentially, the House wants to spend $27
million in the funds to help pay for improvements to K-5 education.
The Senate, however, wants to spend $48 million on tuition assistance
for technical schools. Compromises being discussed include a straight
split of funds between programs and another that splits it based
on a percentage formula.
With both bills at similar points in negotiations,
what's reportedly happening behind the scenes is shuttling between
conference committees - - if truth-in-sentencing gives a little
here, lottery spending will give a little there. In other words,
each of the measures is kind of holding up the other.
Look for movement to happen soon, in part because
negotiations on another bill - - the $5.6 billion budget - - seems
to be contingent on the outcome of the lottery and sentencing bills.
Conferees on the budget bill are expected to be named early next
week. Also, lawmakers are getting pressure for movement on the lottery
bill because many high-school seniors are stalling in making college
decisions based on whether tech school tuition will be free.
In coming weeks, the legislative parrying will
continue as House and Senate members try to get support in conference
for their versions of bills.