House Bill 33 amends the existing special education voucher law to expand the time period in which a student can have had an active Individualized Education Program (IEP) from 18 months to five years to be eligible for a voucher. A troublesome development with this bill occured when Education Chairman John Moore proposed an amendment adding a reverse repealer, a measure that will force the bill to conference where changes can be made in secret. While in conference, it is possible that this bill could be amended to open the voucher program to all students, as opposed to only those with special needs.
The conference process is intended to be used to negotiate final language when the chambers disagree on details of a bill. In this case, our concern is that “conference” could be used to circumvent the legislative committee process to make changes to the current law in order to create a broad voucher system. Here’s why that is problematic:
The process for a bill to become law includes making proposed legislation available to the public in advance, vetting it thoroughly in committee in each chamber, and debating the bill on the floors of both chambers – all meetings that are public and allow for considerable public input.
Most often, conference committee members work out details in private and hold a last-minute public meeting to announce the changes that have been made to a bill. In recent years, many conference reports have been held until the deadline, making it difficult for the public – and most legislators – to know what changes have been made before the conference report is brought up for a vote in the final days of the legislative session.
Major changes to legislation should not be made in conference.
HB 33 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. We will continue to watch this bill and report any changes made to it.