At the Statehouse, Another Memorable Session...Or Was It?

Apr 30, 2015

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

The Indiana General Assembly is required to complete its work no later than April 29th in the years when they pass a two-year budget.  It is quite common for them to work right up to that deadline like they did this year. 

As this session ended, people began talking about how memorable this session was.  They certainly have some notable legislation and events to point to when they are making their case. 

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the subsequent clarification drew national attention.  The result is a $2 million budget to rebuild the state’s image.  Perhaps the readers of this post are not the target audience for the public relations campaign, but it seems likely Hoosiers should see some positive results from the campaign.  Put all of this together and you get something that is pretty memorable. 

Although it got less attention, repealing the common construction wage law in Indiana drew television commercials and other direct and indirect lobbying activities.  A sitting governor doing television commercials during the session is not something we see very often. 

This session began with a great deal of talk about education – funding and policy.  While the topic may seemed to have disappeared in the middle of the session, it came back strong at the end.  We are looking at changes to how the state Board of Education and Department of Education operate, funding for schools, and others.  We will feel the effects of these changes for some time, but rest assured, they will come up in 2016 when the campaigns to be Superintendent of Public Instruction heat up. 

Finally, although it has not been announced officially, we also saw the end of a presidential bid by Governor Pence.  I am not going to pretend to know when the Governor made his decision.  Certainly, the events surrounding the religious freedom law contributed to what seems to be inevitable decision, but there were other indicators earlier in the session.  For example, Pence had not hired staff or started out on the speaking circuit (a.k.a. campaign trail) the way serious presidential candidates must. 

In spite of these noteworthy happenings, was the session really that memorable? 

The session started in January and it ran right up to the mandatory adjournment day like it does most of the time.  There were approximately 1,230 bills introduced this year which is very close to the same number introduced in 2013 (the last year a budget was drafted).  As of the writing of this post, we do not know the final number of bills that passed and were signed into law, but we can be pretty sure that it will be approximately the usual percentage.  Of course, these are procedural facts and we would expect an institution with close to 200 years of history to behave in a similar fashion each time it meets. 

"Think of what has happened in the last few years and you will start to see that just about every session includes something noteworthy that made some people say that session was memorable and unlike other sessions."

Think of what has happened in the last few years and you will start to see that just about every session includes something noteworthy that made some people say that session was memorable and unlike other sessions.  The same-sex marriage constitutional amendment certainly made a couple of recent sessions memorable.  Who doesn’t remember the Democrats walking out of the session a few years ago?  How about the protests about right-to-work legislation?  A few years before that, people held “tea” parties and the General Assembly made it possible for voters to put caps on property tax rates in the Indiana Constitution.  Early in his time in office Governor Daniels proposed that the state take over the funding of K-12 schools.  One of my personal favorites, partly because it still generates passionate discussion, was the legislation that caused Indiana to begin observing daylight saving time. 

The truth is that just about every session is memorable for some reason.  Almost every session includes some legislation that was not anticipated to be controversial or exciting becoming the thing that we talk about.  The corollary is also true because frequently there is legislation that was expected to be a focus of the session, but went nowhere or didn’t generate the excitement that was anticipated. 

The reality is that tension builds throughout the session and at some point, the tension has to be released.  I won’t pretend to be able to predict when the tension will be released, but I am willing to predict that it will happen in almost every session and that after it is released, the two parties will find a way to get things done. And that is always memorable.


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.