Crossover occurred on March 29, this was the day that all House and Senate bills had to be acted on. Once crossover occurs, the House then holds hearings on all bills passed by the Senate and the Senate holds hearings on all bills passed by the House. Each body can either amend a bill, recommend it as inexpedient to legislate or send it to interim study or, of course ,there is always the option to table a bill. I will take you through what happened on Senate Bill (SB) 383, revising the distribution of school building aid and House Bill (HB) 533, establishing a cap on the amount of school building aid grants distributed each fiscal year. The Senate and the House each had a version of changing the school building aid formula. Currently there is a moratorium on school building aid to school districts. The Legislature recognizes that not providing school building aid to anyone is not the best way to ensure school buildings are meeting the requirements for the education of our children.
The approach that both the Senate and the House took was slightly different. SB 383 came to House Finance for review and recommended action. Since we did not like the approach the Senate took to providing school building aid, House Finance recommended SB 383 as inexpedient to legislate (ITL) on April 12 and the full House agreed on a voice vote on April 25. So SB 383 was dead. However, as I mentioned HB 533 which was similar was in the Senate. The Senate Education Committee amended the bill to contain the wording exactly as it was originally in SB 383. The bill as amended passed the Senate on a voice vote. Once a House bill passes in the Senate it returns again to the full House where the committee chairman makes a recommendation to the entire House of concur, non-concur or non-concur and request a Committee of Conference the recommendation is voted on by the full house. In the case of HB 533, Rep Ober recommended that the House non-concur and request a committee of conference the House approved this action. The speaker then appoints members from the House to sit on the committee of conference. I was one of the members of the committee of conference. The House informs the Senate that a committee of conference has been requested. The Senate has the option of agreeing to the committee of conference or not. In this case, Senator Stiles moved that the Senate accede to the House request for a committee of conference and on a voice vote the Senate approved the committee of conference and the Senate President appoints the Senate members of the committee of conference. This occurred on May 16.
The committee of conference consists of four members of the House and three members of the Senate. We met on May 24 to begin the work of melding the House position in HB 533 and the Senate position in the amended version of HB 533. We had prepared for us what is called a side by side. This document highlights the differences in the two versions. We went paragraph by paragraph to determine where House members could agree with what the Senate amended and what the Senate could agree on from the House version. Once we determined where we could agree, we then put on hold those paragraphs that we would have to negotiate between the Senate version and the House version. Prior to making any decisions on the areas that were put on hold, the Senate members and the House members caucus separately. The purpose of this caucus is to determine which areas of disagreement we might be able to agree to and if there are any areas that we definitely will not compromise on. We return to the committee and went to work going through each paragraph that had been put on hold to see what the other side thought. As we worked through these we made some word changes, added a sentence or two, deleted some sections and compromised on some others. We finally came to complete agreement on Wednesday, May 30. So you ask who won, I believe the public school systems of New Hampshire have won as the Legislature will once again begin funding of school buildings in the next budget.
The bill as agreed to by the committee of conference sets a not to exceed figure of $50 million for school building aid yearly. This bill changes how we pay for school building aid. The Legislature will now pay a percentage of the cost of construction up front in the form of a grant. This change will reduce the amount a school district must borrow for construction of new facilities. The grant total will be from 30 percent to 60 percent based on fiscal capacity of a community such as percentage of pupils eligible for free and reduced price meals. It also provides definite criteria which will be scored and each school building aid request will be identified in descending order based on their score. The Legislature will continue to pay off existing obligations first before any dollars are allocated to new construction. A future legislature may in fact put more money into school building aid than the $50 million. School districts will submit their requests by Sept. 1 and a decision about which school districts will be provided funding will occur by Jan. 15. This will allow school districts to put the bond article on the warrant knowing there is a guarantee of grant funding for building aid. There were several other changes made in the bill but this I hope gives you a flavor of how we arrived at agreement on HB 533.