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Budget bills to be decided by conference committee

When the House and Senate have different versions of the same bill, they send it into a committee of conference -- a way to get all the key players together and resolve differences. Those conference committees happen in secret.

That's a lack of transparency that's worrisome to Delegate Alfonso Lopez, a Democrat from Arlington. "A lot of stuff gets done in private, and that way you can actually have an open and honest dialogue with somebody," Lopez admits. "But I'm also very open and supportive of having the public be able to watch these conversations."

Senator Mark Peake is a Republican from Lynchburg who says what the conference committees lack in transparency they make up for in efficiency. "I tell you what, though, when we have as many bill as we have going to a conference committee, there aren't enough rooms and there isn't enough time to get us out of here in 45 days if we had open public hearings on the conference committee."

For now, the handful of senior lawmakers who are lucky enough to be on the budget conference committee will continue hammering out an agreement in secret. That work could go into early summer and the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.