by Kathy Richardson
State Representative (R-Noblesville)
Many of the younger adults remember watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” when they were in school, a fun video outlining how a bill becomes a law. The process can seem very complicated, and for those of us, where a good amount of time may have passed since those government classes, I wanted to provide you a little refresher course prior to the start of session and talk about the avenue a bill takes through the legislative process.
One of the first steps a member takes after being sworn in, if they wish to file legislation, is the process of writing and submitting bills to the Legislative Service Agency who will draft the language for the bills. This process takes place in the month of December.
The General Assembly’s first session day for 2013 is January 7th but the deadline this year to file bills is Monday, January 14. Once a bill is submitted, The Speaker of the House or the Pro-Tem of the Senate will assign the bill to a committee that handles the same or like subject matter. For instance, if I wrote a bill that changed the insurance laws in Indiana, it would probably be assigned to the Insurance Committee. After the bill is assigned to a committee in order for it to pass the house of origin it must go through three “readings”.
- Is when the bill is handed down by the Speaker or Senate Pro-tem on a bill list which includes the committee the bill has been assigned. The chairperson of the committee will first decide if the bill should be given a hearing. Once the bill is heard in committee the author has the task of presenting enough information to the committee either by their presentation or by bringing people to testify on behalf of the bill. The committee will be able to ask question and make suggestions for changes at the committee level. If the author is successful the bill with be voted on by a majority of the committee members and then passes out of the committee and is called an adopted committee report. From there it is sent to the full chamber and may be placed on the “second reading” calendar.
- The adopted committee report is heard before the entire chamber. This is the point in the process when any legislator can offer amendments to the bill. The amendments are debated and all debates on the floor must be in regard to the amendments, not to the full bill itself. After the amendments have been heard if all members agree it can be taken by consent or a roll call vote can be requested on each amendment offered. Once all amendments have been heard the bill becomes “engrossed” and it will then enter the “third reading” stage.
- The chamber will hear the engrossed bill with any amendments that were included. This time the bill is debated in its entirety. Once the debate has come to an end the bill will be voted on. The bill passes from that chamber if it receives at least 51 votes in the House (26 in the Senate), and if it passes then it is sent to the opposite chamber. From there, the process begins all over again with first reading in the opposite chamber.
Numerous things can happen to a bill once it has passed from the chamber where it originated, but I would need to write a book rather than a column to cover all of them.