It is said in Washington, D.C., that there are two things in this world that you don’t want to see being made – sausage and new laws. Having worked in government in Washington in the past and now entering my third session as a state representative in Indianapolis, I think I can safely say that law making is not as bad in Indiana as it is in DC. But, I can also say it is an interesting experience unlike anything else I have done in the working world.
Indiana runs on a two-year budget and our legislative sessions reflect this dominate reality. In the odd numbered years, which fall after an election, the General Assembly meets from January to the end of April. These are the “long sessions” where the budgets get hammered out. In the even numbered years, the sessions run from January to mid-March. These constitute the so-called “short sessions.”
In the long session, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives has the ability to introduce up to 10 bills. In the short session, the limit is five bills. Interestingly, and to the dismay of many a House member, the Senate has no limit on the number of bills which may be filed. And that brings me back to sausage making time, which begins in earnest in the fall before the sessions and ends when they end.
Because there is a limit on the number of bills which may be filed, the various citizens or collections of citizens which have a desire to see changes to law, begin seeking out representatives in the fall to sponsor their bill proposals. If you pass through the Statehouse at this time you are likely to see small meetings taking place where folks are trying to persuade various members to carry their bills. For example, because I am one of the few lawyers in the House, I am asked to carry many bills pertaining to the marrow of law, such as wills, trusts, estates, criminal procedure and a whole host of other matters. I usually end up also carrying one of the technical correction bills, which correct errors in the Indiana Code.
Sometimes the bills you will be asked to carry derive from the committees on which you sit. So, if you sit on the Public Health Committee, you will probably be approached by hospitals or whoever else has an interest in health public policy.
Of course, most all members have some ideas of their own that may make for good new law. Sometimes the origins of such ideas are found in casual conversations with constituents, friends or neighbors. Other times, the proposal is born out of personal experience.
In sum, I think that what you see in Indiana is a good example of what happens when you have a part-time, citizen legislature. Members of the House and Senate come together to try to hammer out new laws where necessary, at the same time being cognizant that changes to the Indiana Code have real consequences that effect real people — the very people that we will see every day as soon as our sessions end. In other words, government of the people, by the people and for the people rolls on.
Rep. Tom Washburne (R-Evansville) serves as chairman of the Courts and Criminal Code Committee. He represents Gibson County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh and Posey counties.
A high-resolution photo of Washburne can be downloaded by clicking here.