Lawmakers are sworn in. They elected leaders and received committee assignments. Invoices are now public. Now it is time for us to focus on the work of the Indiana General Council.
The legislature meets for two years at a time. The first year (odd years) is referred to as the first regular session and the “long session”. The second year (even-numbered years) is referred to as the second regular session and the “short session”. The meetings must start no later than the second Monday in January. This is January 9thth in 2023. Long sessions must be suspended by April 29 at the latest. Short sessions must be suspended by March 14 at the latest.
Legislators receive ideas for legislation from community leaders and elected officials in their districts and constituencies. You can also get them from interest groups. The professionals who work in the Office of Bill Drafting and Research (The Office) in the Legislative Services Agency (LSA) actually draft the legislation based on the ideas that the legislature puts before them. This ensures that invoices are written in a consistent language and format. These professionals also review the rest of the Indiana Code to minimize unintended inconsistencies. Lawmakers review the office’s drafts to make sure they match their idea.
Just over 1,200 bills are introduced in one long session. Short sessions cost around 850 bills on average. The length of the session helps explain the difference in numbers. The preparation of the biennial state budget distinguishes the long and short sessions the most. This task happens in the long session and dominates the action.
The procedure for passing a bill is the same for both long and short sessions. For a bill to become law, identical versions of the bill must pass the House and Senate and then be signed by the governor. That sounds simple, but the devil is in the details.
Once drafted by the Office, the laws are introduced in the “Chamber of Origin”. The first of three “readings” will be received. The readings are a public presentation of the legislation. Believe it or not, part of the bill is actually read aloud.
After the first reading, bills are assigned to a committee. This is where most of the work is done on most calculations. The legislators who introduced the law attend committee meetings and plead for passage. Other legislators, members of the administration and representatives of interest groups may also testify. What may be most important is that the public will have an opportunity here to officially speak out on the merits of the bill.
It may surprise people, but lawmakers love hearing from the public at committee meetings. Taking the time to travel to the statehouse and attend a hearing shows some interest in the issue, which lawmakers are noticing.
Bills that make it out of committee then go to a second reading and then a third reading. These two activities may look identical to the casual observer, but they are different. If a bill is passed on the third reading, it means that the bill can be moved to the other chamber. The word “eligible” is used because there must be a sponsor in the other chamber. If none can be found, the bill will not be brought forward.
A bill that makes it out of the original chamber goes through the same steps again in the other chamber – first reading, assignment to committee, hearing in committee, second reading and third reading.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a process with so many steps isn’t fast. Nor does it result in many bills becoming law. The throughput rate for the last 11 years is approximately 21%.
The fact that the IGA passes around a fifth of all draft legislation triggers two reactions. The first reaction is, “Is that all you’ve done? How inefficient.” The second is, “Thank God that’s all they did.” Another way to look at this is to understand that people want the laws they want, fast and just say goodbye. They want legislation they don’t like to die as soon as possible.
This is a slow process designed to ensure people have time to contact lawmakers and make their voices heard. Please visit iga.in.gov and research what the Legislature is doing in this session. Then take the time, if you can, to contact the legislature or visit the statehouse and testify.