Legislating Beyond the Will of the Legislature

One other way in which accountability is lost in the legislative chambers is when the “final form” of bills is determined through conference committees to smooth out inter-chamber policy differences.

The priorities of the two chambers generally differ as they tackle common legislative agenda. Different sets of measures from the common agenda are given priority by the Senate and the House. In many instances, instead of simply proposing amendments to house bills received, senators file their own counterpart bills, thus, further protracting the process. Gaining credit for the authorship of bills may be causing these maneuvers, especially when the bills at issue are popular and would generate substantial public impact and voter support.

The Senate has also been exercising a virtual veto on many local bills (bills affecting specific localities or local interests only), as most of those transmitted to the Senate end up not being acted upon. Indeed, the Senate may approve or reject local bills, but it should officially act on every local bill transmitted to it, to enable proponents in the House to undertake remedial action, since the interests of local constituencies are at stake. Bicameral conference committees harmonize conflicting provisions of bills on the same subject matter approved by the Senate and the House. As in the Absentee Voting Bill, policy dissonances can be very pronounced.

That compromises are eventually forged affirms the viability of conference committees as tools to smooth out inter-chamber policy differences. However, in many instances, conference committees introduce into the final version of a bill such provisions that were never contemplated or contained in the original bills. And most of the time this “final” version of the bill gets approved. Thus, conference committees have been tagged as virtual third chambers legislating beyond the will of the Senate and the House.