Capitol Report - Week 15 2021
April 26, 2021
By: Paula S. Dierenfeld
Show Must Go On. Next Friday is the 110th day of the 2021 legislative session – the day legislators’ per diem runs out. The goal of the legislature is always to finish its work for the year on or around the last day they get paid for being at the Capitol. With all the work that still needs to be done on the major budget bills, it’s highly unlikely they will adjourn “on time.” The general consensus among those who have been around for a while is that the session will extend an additional week and will adjourn around May 7.
* * *
Back Stage. With the end in sight, don’t expect much observable to the naked (or masked) eye to happen during the daylight hours this week. Most of the activity will occur behind closed doors, in caucus or in meetings with legislative leaders. And by the time the bills are taken up on the floor, generally after sunset, the die will be cast. The deals will have been cut and the decisions made. When the legislature gets to that point, things go fast. There is no opportunity for those outside the chambers to impact what happens once debate begins. It’s ugly - sometimes illogical and unfair. It’s typically how the legislature brings the session to an end.
* * *
Center Stage. Some progress was made on the budget bills last week. The first budget bill, Administration and Regulation (Admin & Reg), passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 55 to 37. The bill, HF 867, provides funding for various state agencies that have administrative or regulatory authority, including the offices of all the statewide elected officials. This week’s House Republican newsletter reports the “breakthrough” on the Admin & Reg budget was a decision by the Senate to match the House’s proposal to provide $100 million to implement the recently passed Broadband Bill, HF 848. The newsletter states, “That commitment to a $95 million increase in state grants to expand broadband access was the catalyst to settling the first budget bill.” HF 867 was sent to the Senate and placed on the debate calendar.
* * *
Into the Spotlight. Less progress was made on the Health and Human Services (HHS) budget, however the House subcommittee did release its bill, LSB 11004 YC – which means both chambers have now released their versions of all the major budget bills with the exception of the Standings bill, which always debuts last. While the Senate and House HHS budget bills are not that far apart in terms of total spending, they diverge dramatically on the policy changes proposed in the bills. The Senate’s bill, SF 606, includes total spending of about $2.085 billion and the House is proposing $2.048 billion, a difference of about $37 million.
The Senate has committed $50 million to repeal the mental health property tax levy with the state taking over funding for mental health services. The Senate has also proposed implementing a real-time verification system for public assistance programs that would cross-check an applicant’s eligibility against various state databases. The House has not included either of these policy changes in its bill, and instead has proposed a provision that is not in the Senate bill to require health insurers to pay for mental health services delivered through telehealth at the same rate as they pay for in-person mental health treatment. Governor Reynolds included the same telehealth requirement in the emergency proclamations she issued this past year in response to the pandemic.
There are significant differences in the chambers’ approaches to several other budget bills, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Economic Development, Education and Justice Systems. But given the size and complexity of the HHS budget, once the House and Senate settle on that budget bill, agreement on the rest should follow quickly.
* * *
Entire Cast. Following is the status of the various budget bills:
* * *
Curtain Call. The state budget will continue to dominate the legislature’s activities this week – as it is the only real “must do” standing in the way of adjournment. The drama will increase, the characters will become more defined, there will be a few tense moments but the plot is predictable. The session will end quickly, and quietly, with few surprises. Incredibly, it’s always anti-climatic! With a nod to the Oscars in this week’s titles, you can plan a night at the movies soon.
The Nyemaster Goode Government Affairs team tracks and analyzes legislation as part of its full range of legislative services. At the statehouse, our public policy attorneys use experience, knowledge, and technical skills to achieve our clients’ goals.