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Featured, from left: Lissette Almanza of Houston and Christopher Vela of Edinburg, both staff members for Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and Sen. José R. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, a graduate of then-Pan American University who was raised in Alamo, outside the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol.

Photograph By SENATE MEDIA

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that will come up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium. “I am honored to have been selected by Lt. Governor Patrick for such an important responsibility,” said Hinojosa, who is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which came up with the Senate version of the state budget. “Through this appointment I am able to help craft a state budget that will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.” A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives. On Wednesday, April 1, the House approved $209.8 billion budget, followed by the Senate, which on Wednesday, April 14, voted for a $211.4 billion budget. There are major differences in how much money is provided for certain programs and tax cuts, which resulted in the creation of the conference committee. “It is critical we work together to sort out the significant differences between the House and Senate versions to invest efficiently in our state programs so that we provide the services needed by our most vulnerable populations and that we wisely invest in infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, border security, and our students.” For example, the Senate budget proposes an $811 million increase for border security while the House budget calls for a $565 million boost. The Senate budget does not provide any increase for increasing Medicaid payments to doctors, while the House budget provides a $460 million boost. “Serious discussions will be taking place during the final budget process in the coming weeks and I am fully committed to support the funding priorities we need for South Texas and our entire state,” Hinojosa pledged.

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Sen. Hinojosa the only Valley lawmaker serving on Senate/House Conference Committee that will decide final version of Texas’ state budget

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that will come up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium.

“I am honored to have been selected by Lt. Governor Patrick for such an important responsibility,” said Hinojosa, who is Vice-Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which came up with the Senate version of the state budget. “Through this appointment I am able to help craft a state budget that will pave the way for an educated and healthy workforce and a successful Texas economy.”

A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, April 1, the House approved $209.8 billion budget, followed by the Senate, which on Wednesday, April 14, voted for a $211.4 billion budget. There are major differences in how much money is provided for certain programs and tax cuts, which resulted in the creation of the conference committee.

“It is critical we work together to sort out the significant differences between the House and Senate versions to invest efficiently in our state programs so that we provide the services needed by our most vulnerable populations and that we wisely invest in infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, border security, and our students.”

For example, the Senate budget proposes an $811 million increase for border security while the House budget calls for a $565 million boost. The Senate budget does not provide any increase for increasing Medicaid payments to doctors, while the House budget provides a $460 million boost.

“Serious discussions will be taking place during the final budget process in the coming weeks and I am fully committed to support the funding priorities we need for South Texas and our entire state,” Hinojosa pledged.

The power of a conference committee is far-reaching, especially in the most important duty of the Texas Legislature, which is to approved a two-year operating budget for state government.

Once the Senate/House Conference Committee drafts a budget that eliminates, the compromise, the differences between the House and Senate versions and files it as the conference committee report, the state budget will be sent to both chambers for final approval. At that point, no changes can occur.

If a final state budget is not approved by the Texas Legislature by the time the regular session ends on June 1, the governor would have to call a special session for state lawmakers to come back to finish the state budget.

The state budget, which is for a two-year period, begins on September 1, 2015.

Joining Hinojosa on the Senate team of negotiators are Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Joan Huffman, R-Houston; Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; and Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown.

That naming of the Senate appointees took place one day after Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, selected five House members – none from the Valley – to serve on that powerful, 10-member legislative panel, which is responsible for balancing the state budget and funding the state’s priorities by reconciling the differences between the Senate and House versions.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, one of the most experienced legislative leaders in the 150-member House of Representatives, is the only Democrat chosen by the Republican Speaker of the House.

In addition to Turner, the other House members on the Conference Committee are Rep. John Otto, R-Dayton; Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin; Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place; and Rep. John González, R-Round Rock.

THE CONFERENCE COMMITTEE PROCESS

The Texas Legislative Reference Library of Texas, located in the State Capitol, provides the reference and research needs of the Legislature, its staff and committees, and the public.

It provides the following summary of how a conference committee works:

If a conference committee is requested, the presiding officers each appoint five members from their respective chambers to serve on the committee.

The Senate rules require that at least two of the Senate conferees be members of the Senate committee from which the bill was reported.

A conference committee’s charge is limited to reconciling differences between the two chambers, and the committee, unless so directed, may not alter, amend, or omit text that is not in disagreement. Nor may the committee add text on any matter that is not in disagreement or that is not included in either version of the bill in question.

After the committee has reached an agreement, a report is submitted to both chambers for approval or disapproval. The report must be approved by at least three conferees from each chamber and must contain the text of the bill as approved by the conference committee, a side-by-side analysis comparing the text of the compromise bill to both the House and the Senate versions, and the signatures of those members of the conference committee who approved the report.

A conference committee report is not subject to amendment but must be accepted or rejected in its entirety.

Should the proposed compromise remain unacceptable to either chamber, it may be returned to the same conference committee for further deliberation, with or without specific instructions, or the appointment of a new conference committee may be requested.

Failure of the conference committee to reach agreement kills the measure.

If the conference committee report is acceptable to both chambers, the bill is enrolled, signed by both presiding officers in the presence of their respective chambers, and sent to the governor.

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Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Hinojosa serves as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. He currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development, Criminal Justice, Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), and the Sunset Advisory Commission.

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