[r85] A Beginners Guide to the Legislative Process (1/12/2012)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Start Date: 1/12/2012
End Date: 1/12/2012

With all eyes on the Statehouse, I thought I would give some insight into the legislative process and how a bill becomes a law. This year especially, the legislative process may seem more hectic. It is important to understand that either party can implement stall tactics in order to hinder the process in their favor.  It was this exact strategy that delayed the start of session this year, and the same thing happened for five weeks last year.

Typically the process goes much smoother and follows a specific sequence of events. It all begins when a legislator speaks with constituents and learns what legislation they think is needed to enhance their district or the State of Indiana. Legislators introduce bills, but often those bill ideas come from the constituents. The author will introduce the bill to either the House or the Senate after it has been written.

Second, the bill will be heard on a first reading and assigned to a committee. During a committee hearing, a bill will be discussed by committee members and be subject to public testimony. Public testimony is a key component to the democratic process since it gives us an opportunity to hear your thoughts and concerns about the legislation. It’s after we hear the testimony that members may add amendments to address concerns brought up during public testimony and then a vote is casted on whether or not the bill should move onto the full House or Senate. 

If the bill is approved by the committee, it is then eligible to be heard on a second reading by the entire body. This is when any legislator can try to amend the bill. Every amendment is voted on separately and requires a majority vote to be adopted.

After that, the bill is eligible to be heard on a third reading, when the full House or Senate will vote to approve or defeat the bill. If the bill is approved on a third reading, it switches from its chamber of origin to the opposite chamber.  It will go through the exact same process again and is still subject to be amended, approved or defeated.

After the chambers have passed the bill, one of three things can happen. One, if no changes have been made the bill goes straight to the Governor. Two, if the bill is amended in the second chamber, it must be returned to its house of origin for the changes to be approved or defeated. If the changes are approved, the bill then goes to the Governor.

Had the majority of the original house disagreed, the bill would be sent to a conference committee which is made up of four legislators, two from each chamber. They will study the bill and work to find a compromise, which is then voted on by both chambers. If both houses approve, then the bill moves to the Governor’s desk. Or option three is the bill can be killed if both chambers do not agree upon changes.

The final step in this long process is action from the Governor, who has several options. He can sign a bill into law, veto it, or do nothing. If he does nothing, the bill will become law without his signature in seven days. If he vetoes it, legislators can override the veto with a majority vote by both chambers.

The bill making process is lengthy, but it’s to ensure each piece of legislation gets fully analyzed and debated. This is not a frivolous matter and it is important that all sides are heard, whether it’s the majority or minority party. Over the past year there have been delays in the how the democratic process works at the Statehouse but we must remain focused on the ultimate goal, which is to pass the best legislation for Hoosiers and their families.