Bill filing and the legislative calendar

December 13th, 2005

legislationThis weekend was the final deadline for House members to submit bills to the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) for drafting.

According to the Rules of the House (pdf), no bills (except budget bills) may be filed until they have been submitted to LSA for the purpose of checking for correct form, subject matter, etc. Once the bills are in official draft form, they can be filed with the Clerk of the House and then must be assigned by the Speaker to a committee within ten days.

The final deadline for filing bills in the House is January 10, 2005, and House Rule 109.2 limits the number of bills filed in the second regular session (the so-called “short” session) to just five per member.

Because the drafting deadline has now passed, the listing of House bills should soon start filling out.

I have submitted my drafts and they are currently being prepared for filing. As they become available, I will make updates here about each of them.

The “short” session can be difficult because all legislative work is compressed into an incredibly tight timeframe. For example, according to this year’s preliminary legislative calendar (pdf), the last day for assigning bills to House committees is January 20th, and the final day for third reading (final passage) in the House is February 2nd. That leaves only two or three weeks for all bills to be heard by committee, amended and passed in one chamber.

Hoosiers deserve a more thoughtful and deliberative process than that. We can keep a part-time citizen Legislature, and still give adequate consideration to new legislation and provide oversight of the Executive branch agencies (which is now effectively non-existent).

It might make more sense to allow committees to meet at any time throughout the year to take testimony, and allow bills to be filed year-round. The Legislature could then spend far more time hearing public input and crafting compromise legislation.

The current summer study committee structure is helpful, but most of the members are not elected representatives. The work and policy recommendations they generate can be overlooked because not enough legislators (who actually write the legislation) are involved in the process.

The General Assembly is comprised of dedicated and conscientious public servants that I am proud to serve with. However, spending time ironing out difficult points of law takes time, and the compressed nature of the legislative session does a disservice to the citizens of Indiana. Hopefully, we can make changes in the future to strengthen and improve the branch of government that is the most direct representative of the people.

Entry Filed under: Statehouse

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Doug  |  December 13th, 2005 at

    The drafting season was always a fun time at LSA. We’d joke about legislators dropping off their bill requests on their way out of the state for their Christmas vacation. Meanwhile, back at the State House, the LSA employees were grudgingly given Christmas day off. Ah, good times. But, in a perverse way, I honestly did enjoy that time of year. Just sitting in my cubicle, turning ideas into legislation. One tough part was not being able to get ahold of the legislator to ask questions about various details.

    Even worse was getting a request to just turn some lobbyist’s draft into legislation. All too often those drafts were just poorly written — usually too many pronouns and not enough clarity on who got to do what to whom and under what circumstances. And with the lobbyists who hadn’t been around very long, convincing them that the language needed to be changed was like pulling teeth. Some of them had been given language from their higher ups and didn’t really know what the intent of a particular passage was, so they held on to the “magic words” like grim death. But I digress (and I’m sure some of these things have been magnified in my memory beyond their original proportions.)

    As to the need for more time during the short-session, I’m not so sure. I think all of the reasons for expanding the short-session are generally applicable to just going ahead and having a full-time legislature. The need for oversight of the executive branch is particularly compelling.

    I tend to think that the more time the legislature is in session, the more legislation will be passed. It’s just the nature of the beast. When a hammer is your only tool, the whole world starts to look like nails. In the legislature’s case, legislation is the only tool.

    Maybe I’m too pessimistic, but I also tend to think that a truly deliberative legislature just isn’t in the cards. Not because the elected representatives don’t want to take the time to deliberate. Being in session just seems to get lobbyists and constituents into a frenzy, and the time you would like to spend deliberating is sucked away. I don’t think a longer “short” session would reduce the time pressures. I think it would just extend the frenzy.

    Not exactly a representative sample, but judging from yours and Representative Heim’s blogs, I’d say you guys do your best deliberating while the legislature is adjourned.

  • 2. Ryan Dvorak  |  December 13th, 2005 at

    Doug-

    You’re right about the crush of requests that come in at the deadline. I do not envy the LSA workload this time of year.

    I try to pre-draft all of my bills personally to make it a little easier on them.

    One good change that has been made since your departure is that lobbyists are no longer allowed to deal directly with LSA – any requests have to come from a legislator. I think that helps add more integrity to the process.

    As far as the session timetable is concerned, I agree with you that the actual session does not need to be extended. I simply suggested that if the standing committees were allowed to convene to hear testimony (not necessarily even vote) after session had adjourned, then a lot of work could be done before session even begins. A small-scale version of that is happening this month with Ways and Means convening to hear testimony on HB 1001.

    Public input is too often a casualty of the compressed timeframe that the Legislature operates under. I often talk to citizen’s groups, businesses, etc., who realized too late a bill was “in the pipe,” and didn’t have time to make it down to Indianapolis to testify on it before it had gone through the process.

    Allowing some of the work to be done at the committee level before the session convenes is one way we might look at making the process more open. It also could be a great opportunity for administrative and budgetary oversight to occur.

  • 3. Doug  |  December 14th, 2005 at

    Oh, I see. I missed your point about the standing committees. That seems like a pretty good idea. I think you’d want fairly strict rules against legislative action during the offseason just because I’m sure there would be a great deal of pressure from some quarters to have the General Assembly pushing legislation through during that time period.

  • 4. Ryan Dvorak for State Rep&hellip  |  March 16th, 2006 at

    […] I previously suggested making such a change back in December on this site. […]

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