As the formal legislative session came to a close for the calendar year yesterday, the House and Senate were unable to reach a consensus on a fiscal 2023 closeout supplemental budget bill, and a six-member conference committee was named to resolve differences between the two branches.

Bills passed by the House on Nov. 8 and the Senate on Nov. 14 have many similarities, including $250 million to address the emergency shelter crisis, but there are differences over how that money would be allocated and accounted for. The House bill would set targeted spending allotments within the total allocation, while the Senate bill would give the administration more flexibility in allocating funds but would require the administration to report on the spending every two weeks.

There are several areas where both branches agree, including on $75 million to address extraordinary cost increases for special education in eligible school districts, following a decision made last October by the Operational Services Division that allows out-of-district special education private schools to increase tuition by 14% in fiscal 2024.

Each bill also includes a section to address costs associated with administering early voting and mail-in voting, providing $5 million for grants from a reserve account to be issued by the secretary of state. And both bills would schedule the state’s 2024 primary election on Sept. 3.

Both bills also would authorize municipalities to amortize, over fiscal 2025 through 2027, costs incurred as a result of recent natural disasters, an important mechanism for impacted communities. The Senate bill includes $15 million for additional disaster relief for affected municipalities, and the House bill includes $10 million for additional relief.

The Senate bill also includes several of the municipal finance law changes that were included in a supplemental budget bill filed by the governor in March. Of note, the Senate bill would provide important clarity on the process for spending and accounting for opioid settlement funds.

The bulk of the spending in the bills, $2.12 billion, is for MassHealth fee-for-service payments.

The conference committee must reconcile differences between the bills before a final version can be approved by each branch and sent to the governor. Legislative action will now need to be conducted during informal sessions, when objections from a single legislator can derail a bill.

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