Senators craft their spending bill, discard amendments; now the conference committee gets to do its work

After surviving last week’s deliberations in the Senate, legislators’ amendments to the budget proposals are now mostly out of their hands as the differences between the House and Senate versions are ironed out in the conference committee.

“The budget is a multitudinous document and it’s our one shot, on a financial basis, to get what the state and district will need for the year, so it’s a lot of battles all at once,” Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said in an interview on Tuesday.

Chang-Diaz and her Senate colleague, Linda Dorcena Forry, collectively had an interest in more than 200 of the nearly 1,000 amendments filed for the $36.2 billion Senate bill. After a week of haggling over line items and long nights for the senators and their staffs, a relative few out of the initial outlay were left standing and adopted.

Those that made the final cut included $200,000 for the St. Mary’s Woman and Infant Center’s “Woman at Work” program, which is meant to help women with significant barriers to employment achieve self-sufficiency, and $9.5 million (a hike of $300,000 from last year) for the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative grant program, which gives money directly to the 11 cities and towns with the state’s highest number of youth homicides and serious assaults.

Funding was also provided for full-day kindergarten for all five year olds in Boston, for teen pregnancy prevention, for improvements to Ventura Park and baseball field, and for an Iraq and Afghanistan Fallen Heroes Veterans Memorial in the Seaport District.

The memorial amendment passed unanimously, with Dorcena Forry, the amendment’s sponsor, noting that the $250,000 allotted by the Senate for construction is at the mercy of the six-legislator conference committee that has been charged with reconciling the House and Senate bills, both of which are laden with amendments that would cost many millions.

“When it comes to conference committees, anything is negotiable,” Dorcena Forry said. “Everything is on the table.”

The best way to ensure an amendment’s survival in the final budget proposal? Make sure there’s no difference between the House and Senate amendments. Or simply ask for no money at all.

A number of no-cost amendments made it through the Senate, including a bill giving communities impacted by new late-night MBTA hours the option of extending liquor licensing hours, a favorite of Mayor Martin J. Walsh that was sponsored by Dorcena Forry. Another would permanently codify the Office of Access and Opportunity, which Gov. Deval Patrick created by executive order. Dorcena Forry sponsored the bill and Chang-Diaz was one of the co-sponsors.

Of course, even free is not always possible. The success and failure of the amendments ultimately comes down to relationships, both in and outside the Legislature, and the power of the pen. “The key is going to be doing letters, working with my colleagues in the House and Senate, and supporting particular amendments to co-sign letters” of support to the conference committee members, said Dorcena Forry. “Rep. Dan Hunt was in here earlier talking about some of the amendments that he cared about. I said ‘Okay,’ so we’ll craft a letter and send it off.”

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