As February Wraps Up, A Legislative Milestone Passes

Feb 25, 2015

Andrew Downs, Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.
Credit Courtesy / Andrew Downs

The week of February 23rd includes a legislative milestone for the current session of the Indiana General Assembly.  This was the week when bills had to move from one chamber to the other.  Theoretically, if a bill failed to be voted out of the chamber of origin, it is not possible for that bill to become law.  In other words, those bills are dead.  (Click here to see how a bill becomes a law in Indiana.) 

At the start of the session, people across the state identified bills to follow.  People who are new to the process might be thinking that when the bills they were following failed to clear the chamber of origin, they could stop paying attention to the session.  That is not true.  In the first paragraph I wrote that, “theoretically,” bills that failed to clear the chamber of origin were dead.  But no bill is dead until the session is over. 

One of the challenges to the first part of the session is keeping an eye on the large number of bills that were introduced.  This year there were over 1,200 bills introduced in the two chambers.  On average, the Indiana General Assembly passes approximately 20 to 30 percent of all bills that are introduced in a session.  In the past three years, they have passed an average of 23 percent.  The General Assembly’s web site includes a status diagram for House and Senate bills.  The diagrams are updated throughout the session. 

In the second part of the session, the challenge changes.  Anyone following legislation has to remember that bills can be amended and that means that ideas that failed to pass on their own can become part of a bill that is moving.  This is possible in the first part of the session, but it takes on a new importance in the second part of the session. 

Here are three suggestions for what to do in the second part of the session.

First: find the bills that are moving that are germane to yours.  Keep in mind that germane, like beauty is in the “eye” of the beholder.  There is no doubt that every session some people find the definition of germane to be a bit too broad, but as a general rule, the leadership in the House and Senate use a relatively narrow definition.  Keep in mind that there are instances when the definition needs to be broadened for practical reasons.  For example, at the start of the session Senate Bill 62 (SB 62) was about schools being allowed to hire people who are not licensed to teach, to teach personal wellness and fitness courses.  As of February 20th, SB 62 was about the ISTEP for this year.  The legislature decided that it needed to take action immediately regarding the ISTEP and SB 62 was a way for them to do that. 

"Whether you are playing offense or defense, it is good to be ready at every step of the way for amendments to bills."

Second: keep an eye on the agendas of the committees relevant to the subjects that interest you.  Bills can be amended at several points in the process, but in committee is one of the earliest points.  Whether you are playing offense or defense, it is good to be ready at every step of the way for amendments to bills. 

Third: get to know some people in Indianapolis.  The General Assembly’s web site has made it much easier to follow the legislative process, but there is no replacement for knowing people who are in the statehouse on a regular basis.  They hear rumors and off-hand comments that provide insight into what is going to happen. 

Earlier this session, a lobbyist told me that he describes the legislative session as three periods.  The first period ends with the deadline for bills to be voted out of the first chamber.  The second period lasts until the deadline for bills to be voted out of the second chamber.  The third period is the last couple of weeks of the session when many bills are in conference committee. 

Using his description, we still have two periods of this session to go.  Regardless of which period it is, there are moments of joy, grief, satisfaction, and frustration and the rollercoaster ride will not be over until the end of April.

 

Andrew Downs is Director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff, management or board of Northeast Indiana Public Radio. If you want to join the conversation, head over to our Facebook page and comment on the post featuring this column.