Summer Committees Offer Legislative Insight

May 28, 2014

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

The Indiana General Assembly meets in session until the end of April in odd-numbered years.  This is known as the long-session and is when the two-year budget is drafted and approved. 

In even-numbered years, the General Assembly meets in session until the middle of March.  This is known as the short-session.  You can see the archive of legislative activity and deadline information here

Indiana has a part-time legislature and that might make some people think that when the session ends, legislators stop working for us.  While some legislators stay more active than others when they are not in session, all legislators spend time on at least two kinds of activities. 

The first kind of activity is known as casework or constituent service.  This can take a variety of forms.  A legislator may provide a state flag to a local club, help a constituent navigate the state bureaucracy, or assist with expediting an issue pending before a governmental agency.  It also includes legislators meeting with constituents and responding to correspondence.  For many legislators, casework takes up more time than any other duty.  Effectively addressing constituent concerns builds good will.  (Find your legislators here.) 

The second kind of activity is about researching topics for potential legislation.  Legislative sessions can be very hectic and are not a good time to be crafting legislation.  This is why lawmakers meet with local elected officials, business and community leaders, and constituents outside of the session to develop a better understanding of issues that a community or group might be facing.  These meetings can lead to legislation in a future session. 

There is a more formal way that legislators research issues and potentially craft legislation.  Every year, the Legislative Council passes a resolution creating study committees that are charged with researching a variety of issues.  Study committees typically have members from both chambers and are bipartisan.  Non-legislators may be asked to serve on study committees as well. 

Study committees hold a number of meetings that are open to the public over the summer and fall.  Some of them are even broadcast through the General Assembly’s web site, so you can watch from the comfort of your home or office.  These meetings feature experts offering testimony and comments from the public. 

When the meetings are over, the legislators on the study committee will vote on recommendations.  Recommendations with broad support have a pretty good chance of becoming legislation in the next session.  This means that any recommendations that become legislation already have bipartisan support in both chambers.  That is a good sign that the legislation might be able to be passed. 

The Legislative Council adopted the resolution creating this summer’s committees on May 14th.  This summer a number of issues dealing with juveniles will be researched by the Interim Study Committee on Corrections and Criminal Code.   The Interim Study Committee on Courts and the Judiciary will be investigating several issues regarding digital privacy.  Other committees will look into shooting preserves and cervidae farming, the impact of the medical device industry in Indiana, whether or not Indiana should implement a state-based health exchange, the shift in local property tax burden that has been taking place over the past several years, annexation, and a statewide policy for trails and trail maintenance. 

Take a look at what the study committees will be doing this summer.  You may want to attend a hearing.  If you have expertise in the area, you may want to participate.


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.