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A bill’s journey to passage in the Indiana General Assembly is usually not as simple and straightforward as many of us learned in high school or college political science courses. There are many roadblocks and pitfalls that a bill will encounter after its introduction. In addition, most bills will encounter some level of opposition from some group or individual at some point in the process, no matter how innocuous the subject matter may seem.
What follows is a very thumbnail outline of the path most bills take to passage, or defeat, in a typical Indiana Legislative Session. Again, there are many other pitfalls that a bill can meet on its way through the process. Political disagreements, even between legislators in the same political parties, lead to the death of many bills each session. Many bills also inevitably die during the rush to get bills through the process at the time of the deadline for moving bills from each house. Nevertheless, the following provides a good overview of the legislative process.
How Bills Pass
First Reading – Each bill presented by a legislator is first read by title in the house of its origin. At this point, either the speaker of the House or the president pro tempore of the Senate refers the bill to a committee.
Committee Action — The committee’s responsibility is to consider the merits of a bill and determine whether it can be improved by amending the language or by making additions or deletions. It is required that committee schedules be posted on House and Senate bulletin boards. Whenever possible, committee hearings are open to the public so that interested parties may speak on the measures being heard. The committee’s final action is to report the bill back to the legislative body with the committee report. If the committee report is adopted, the bill is printed and ready for further action.
Second Reading — When the bill is brought up for second reading on the House or Senate floor, legislators have an opportunity to propose amendments. In order to be accepted, any amendment must win the approval of a majority of the legislators present and voting. After the second reading, the bill is “ordered to engrossment.” This means that with its amendments the printed bill is authenticated as being accurate and genuine.
Third Reading — The engrossed bill is again called up to be read after which legislators have an opportunity for debate on its merits before the final vote is taken. It must receive a constitutional majority, meaning 51 “aye” votes in the House or 26 “aye” votes in the Senate before it can be adopted. Those bills approved are sent to the other chamber where the entire process will be repeated.
Conference Committee — If the bill passed by one chamber is then amended by the other, the first chamber must agree upon the amendment(s) before the legislative process can be completed. Should the first chamber dissent (refuse to agree to the changes) a conference committee of two members from each house is appointed to work out a version of the bill that will be satisfactory to both houses. All four must sign the conference committee report and it must be favorably voted on in both houses. Once this has been accomplished, the bill goes to the governor for signature.
Governor’s Action — The governor sends every bill received to the attorney general for examination to see if its content is legally acceptable. The last step in the enactment process is for the governor to sign the bill, or to let it become law without signature. Bills become effective on July 1 of the year they are enacted unless a different effective date is specified on the bill.
How Bills Fail
First Reading — Either house has the authority to vote not to receive a bill on its introduction (first reading). Also, a motion for indefinite postponement or to table the bill may be made from the floor at any time throughout these steps. If approved, either of these motions has the effect of preventing any further progress.
Committee Action — The committee to which a bill is referred can kill it simply by refraining from acting on it. This is a common defense tactic if the committee chairman agrees not to schedule the bill for a hearing.
Second Reading — A motion for indefinite postponement or to table sometimes is made from the floor at this point in the process. Attempts also may be made to amend the bill in such a way that it will stand less of a chance of passage. A motion may also be made at this point to strike out the enacting clause, which effectively kills the effect of the bill.
Third Reading — A bill can win approval of more than half of the legislators voting on it and still falter at this point through failure to gain a constitutional majority (51 “aye” votes in the House and 26 “aye” votes in the Senate). A bill that has simply failed to win a constitutional majority can be called up again for another vote. If it has been defeated by a constitutional majority, however, it cannot be considered again except by suspension of the rules.
A bill that reaches the second House is subject to all of the opportunities to succeed or fail that exist in the House of introduction.
Conference Committee — A bill that survives the hazards of both houses but is amended in the second chamber in a manner that is unacceptable to the House of origin must go to a conference committee consisting of two members appointed from each House. The committee members attempt to reach an agreement that will be acceptable to legislators in both chambers. All four members of the committee must sign the conference committee report and it must be approved in both houses. Bills sometimes die because no such agreement can be reached.
Governor’s Action — The final obstacle to a bill passed by both houses is a veto by the governor. The veto can be overridden, but it requires a constitutional majority of both houses to do so. The governor has seven days in which to act on a bill that has been passed by both houses. If the governor neither signs nor vetoes the bill within that period, it becomes law without signature on the eighth day. A bill vetoed at the end of a session is brought before the legislators in the next succeeding session, usually in the beginning days, for their decision on whether to override the governor’s veto.
Hopefully, this has been a useful explanation for those individuals seeking to learn more about the political process in Indiana. One thing to keep in mind about the Indiana General Assembly — making laws is like making sausage, you really do not want to know how it is done — you just want a quality final product.