Monday, April 13, 2009

How a Bill Becomes a Law - Indiana

I have been asked what do I actually do to get a legal idea to become a law. The process isn't as simple as what you may have seen presented on television at some point; legislators talking to lobbyist and then speaking ad nauseum on the chamber floor about the bill before it comes for a vote and then gets sent to the president or governor if it passed.

The first part of passing laws is the Constitutional and statutory requirements. The Indiana Constitution requires that "The style of every law shall be: "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana"; and no law shall be enacted, except by bill. Bills may originate in either House, but may be amended or rejected in the other; except that bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives" Art. 4. Sec. 1; Art. 4, Sec. 17

The requirements are that "Every bill shall be read, by title, on three several days, in each House; unless, in case of emergency, two-thirds of the House where such bill may be pending shall, by a vote of yeas and nays, deem it expedient to dispense with this rule; but the reading of a bill, by title, on its final passage, shall, in no case, be dispensed with; and the vote on the passage of every bill or joint resolution shall be taken by yeas and nays" Art. 4. Sec. 18.

To become a law a bill must first get a sponsor, or author, who will introduce it to be considered. Each year at least a thousand bills are read, by title, into the record. This is the first reading. This does not mean that legislators will get a chance to vote on the bill as many are bills that did not get voted on the previous year. At this point, either the speaker of the House or the president pro tempore of the Senate refers the bill to a committee.

This is the point where the process can become very disenfranchising to those who put forth so much effort into getting a bill introduced. The majority party, either Republican or Democrat, chairs the committee. The chair wields the power to kill the bill at this point. If the Chair does not set the bill for a hearing then it dies in committee and will not be heard. Lobbying efforts come alive at this point with negotiations being made to get amendments to a bill to either strengthen or weaken it to satisfy the Chair. If the bill can survive this process it moves forward.

Now, additional legislators may add themselves as co-sponsors and the Chair can set it for a hearing which includes a second reading and testimony by lobbyist and the public. Amendments may also be added to the bill at this time. The committee’s final action is to report the bill back to the legislative body with the Committee Report. Most often I appear and testify at these hearings providing relevant testimony about the bill related to my area of expertise.

Upon conclusion of the committee hearing a vote can be taken or the bill can be tabled for further consideration. Here is another point at which a bill can die if it is tabled indefinitely and not set for further hearing or a vote. If the bill passes committee then 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. Here is another opportunity where a bill can be amended which is called a floor amendment. Lobbying efforts again are in full swing. This is the point where I will wander the halls of the Statehouse making sure I have contact with those legislators who will be voting which I feel need last minute encouragement. The bill must receive a constitutional majority, meaning 51 “aye” votes in the House or 26 “aye” votes in the Senate before it can be adopted.

If the bill passes the full chamber then it is referred to the other chamber where the process starts again. If the other chamber amends the bill then it goes to the originating chamber for approval. 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. The constitutional requirements follow:

"A majority of all the members elected to each House, shall be necessary to pass every bill or joint resolution; and all bills and joint resolutions so passed, shall be signed by the Presiding Officers of the respective Houses" Art. 4, Sec. 25

"Every bill which shall have passed the General Assembly shall be presented to the Governor" Art. 5, Sec. 14

"Every bill presented to the Governor which is signed by him or on which he fails to act within said seven days after presentment shall be filed with the Secretary of State within ten days of presentment. In the event a bill is passed over the Governor's veto, such bill shall be filed with the Secretary of State without further presentment to the Governor" Art. 5, Sec. 17

"No act shall take effect, until the same shall have been published and circulated in the several counties of the State, by authority, except in case of emergency, which emergency shall be declared in the preamble, or in the body, of the law" Art. 5, Sec. 17

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