[r72] A Clere View of the Statehouse 3/10/09 (3/10/2009)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Start Date: 3/10/2009 All Day
End Date: 3/10/2009

As if this legislative session wasn't scary enough already, we started the second half amid the specter of zombies and vampires.

I'll explain later.

Feb. 25 was the deadline for bills to pass out of the chamber where they originated. Bills passed by the House of Representatives are now in the Senate, and Senate bills are in the House.

That should have made last week a busy one.

Not.

We convened for a short time each day on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday was reserved for committee meetings, so we didn't meet.

Much of the legislative process happens in committee, and that's why the committees didn't meet.

Nothing much was happening.

I serve on two committees, the Committee on Education and the Committee on Small Business and Economic Development.

After a bill has been filed, the speaker of the House assigns it to a committee. (We have 23 House standing committees this session.)

Many bills are assigned to one of two committees that serve as a sort of dumping ground for unwanted legislation - Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee and the even-more-dreaded Interstate and International Cooperation Committee. With few exceptions, a bill assigned to one of those two committees is ready for recycling.

If a bill is assigned to a committee with a name related to the subject matter of the bill, there is hope.

The committee chairman is in charge, determining which bills receive a hearing; many do not.

In the first half of this session, most House bills did not receive a committee hearing.

If a bill receives a hearing, it means the committee chairman supports the bill's purpose or has a political motivation for hearing the bill. Or both.

Testimony from the public occurs in committee. There is no public testimony on the House floor. Committee meetings are usually attended by interested lobbyists and members of the public who are allowed to address the committee in support or opposition of a bill. As one would expect, the crowd is smaller when the agenda is routine and can swell and include the media when a popular or controversial topic is before the committee.

Not every bill follows the same process.

Since the deadline for filing bills is at the beginning of the legislative session, vehicle bills serve as placeholders. They don't contain any substance until they become a vehicle - thus the name - for legislation that has been deemed worthy of receiving a special ride through the House.

At that point, a vehicle bill is amended to include the desired language. This is similar to a strip-and-insert. As the name suggests, this is when a bill is stripped of its original language and new language, perhaps unrelated to the original bill, is inserted in its place.

Think of vehicle bills as the zombies of the legislative process and a strip-and-insert as vampires.

The vehicle bills were dormant until the week before the deadline for House action. In those waning days, vehicle bills started lining up like Indy cars on the last day of time trials. Before it was over, a few hit the wall.

An example was a bill that would have eliminated the Indiana High School Athletic Association and made oversight of high school sports the responsibility of the state Department of Education.

With all the force and precision of a last-second, full-court field goal attempt, the bill came out of nowhere and landed in the Education Committee.

It was prompted by a single case in a member's district. It passed out of our committee 7-5. After listening to a compelling fiscal argument made by a fellow committee member for whom I have great respect, I joined him in voting for it. None of us had enough time or information to formulate a strong position, however, and I'm not sure how I would have voted if it had come to a vote in the House.

It didn't, because the bill's author withdrew it at the start of floor debate.

Some vehicles bills made it.

An example is House Bill 1729, which is concerned with gaming tax relief.

It would reduce for four years the slot machine wagering tax brackets for so-called "racinos" - race tracks with slot machines.

It passed 58-39. I voted against it, and I'm guessing many will wish they had.

It was an easy vote for me. Racinos would certainly benefit from tax relief. Without it they may fail.

I'm more concerned with finding ways to provide tax relief to small businesses and individual Hoosiers.

Committees will start meeting again next week as Senate bills are assigned and political deals over which bills will be heard are struck.

My advice for the second half: Beware of the undead.