The House Government Operations Committee reviewed another round of amendments to S.39 that would later be voted on by the House. These included technical corrections to language in the bill and accountable reimbursement of expenses instead of per diems.
The Committee returned on Thursday to hear even more amendments to S.39. Representative Donahue was first up to present her amendment. Her amendment would add confidentiality to the Working Group’s draft documents. She believes that the existing language which uses the terms “made public,” was unclear and sounded “secretive.” Legislative Counsel noted that attorney-client confidentiality issues are found throughout state statutes and similar language may be helpful in several areas of the bill.
Representative Harrison returned to offer a fourth amendment. This one he explained by saying that it bothered him that they “get these flat per diems (for expenses) regardless of costs that actually were incurred.” His amendment deletes the “automatic” nature of per diem. He believes these should be “accountable plans,” which is the same change they made on mileage last year. This would also mean more transparency because it shows the actual costs of serving as a legislator.
Hooper noted that this would create “extra work” for legislators, as well as accounting, and they should hear from the Administration on whether there are costs associated with these changes.
Harrison explained that the Legislative Operations office already does this. He gave an example of the Appropriations Committee, which often comes in on Mondays. They are allowed an “accounted” expense submission for these “extra” working days, so they already do this.
Mike Ferrant (Director, Legislative Operations) added that there would be some increased demand on staff time and helping advise people on shared expenses and other situations.
Representative Mrowicki motioned to find the amendment unfavorable and the Committee agreed 9-3-0.
The House came back on S.39 Thursday to review a number of new amendments. Representative Donahue offered her first amendment to the bill, which had been found favorable by the Government Operations Committee 12-0-0.
The house voted unanimously in favor on a voice vote.
Donahue presented her second amendment which she explained would change the language to around working group documents to mirror the language used in client confidentiality statutes. The Government Operations Committee also found this amendment favorable 11-0-1.
Representative Harrison then offered his third amendment which related to how expenses were to be reported and accounted for. He argued that “real and accurate reimbursement” as opposed to the per diem proposed in the bill is more fair. He added that the State would save an estimated $130K annually as it will not be required to pay the employer share of SSI and Medicare taxes (the per diem would be considered taxable income so these would apply).
Passing this amendment, he argued, would add “transparency and tax fairness to the state and to our members.” Representative Nugent stated the Government Operations Committee felt the amendment would make changes that the Working Group will be addressing over the summer, adding that it would increase workload and change the structure of reporting, tracking and assisting all 180 legislators. They found the amendment not favorable 9-3-0.
Donahue commented that the reasoning behind not adjusting it now because the “Working Group will be looking at it this summer… is exactly why we shouldn’t be adjusting salaries now either. We should be waiting for the actual deep dive information to come back to us.”
Representative McCarthy thanked Harrison for the “effort at transparency” as it is always welcomed in his committee. He then recanted the efforts of Legislative Operations to switch to the “accountable” only system. Nonetheless they opposed the move at the current time.
The roll call was 35-110-5 against.
Representative Hango rose to speak against the bill. It had come into her Committee (Government Operations) late and without time for testimony. She pointed to the “sheer number of proposed amendments” as an illustration that the bill was not ready for further consideration by the House.
The bill was passed on a voice vote and sent back to the Senate.
The Senate concurred with the House proposal of amendment on Friday and the bill will be sent to the Governor for signature.