With the 2016 legislative session rapidly nearing sine die May 5, House and Senate lawmakers have started appointing members from their respective chambers to serve on conference committees tasked with trying to reach agreements on the final language of hundreds of bills.

The first measure to be scheduled is House Bill 1700, the overall state budget bill.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke will steer the joint conference committee. Their first meeting to start ironing out a final version of the state’s $13 billion spending plan for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1, is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday in Conference Room 309 at the Capitol.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, left, and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke talk to reporters after passing a final draft of the overall state budget Tuesday.
Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda, left, and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke talk to reporters after passing a final draft of the overall state budget last year. They are set to meet Tuesday to start finalizing the 2017 budget. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

One of the biggest differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget is $160 million for the Hawaii State Hospital. The House cut out that request from Gov. David Ige’s administration but the Senate put it back into the budget.

That bill and numerous others will be debated almost entirely in private before the public hearings begin, assuming lawmakers are going to follow past practice. The public meetings mostly serve as a time for lawmakers to announce the decisions they have made; there’s hardly any back-and-forth discussion.

Nonetheless, the conference room at the Capitol will likely be overflowing with state officials eager to hear what decisions lawmakers have made on their departmental budget requests. In recent years, the House and Senate budget conference committee has met multiple times, announcing decisions in waves as they work through the massive budget.

Expect more conference committee meetings to be scheduled in the coming days.

So far the only other is for Senate Bill 2121, which deals with public meetings and the Sunshine Law, and Senate Bill 2954, which is about criminal history record checks and permits for acquiring firearms. Rep. Karl Rhoads will chair the conference committee on the House side, and Sen. Clarence Nishihara will take the lead for the Senate. That hearing is at 9 a.m., Wednesday.

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