STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: At half-time in the Statehouse, it's politics 1, people 0

March 7, 2005

This column is typically devoted to the intersection of politics, government and business (with an occasional tortured sports analogy tossed in). We don't usually address the higher order of the universe, but after last week, we find that we must delve into the field of metaphysics to provide you with some perspective on legislative events.

March 1 marked the halfway point in the 2005 session of the Indiana General Assembly. But with more than 130 bills dying for lack of a final vote in the House, one must ask: "Halfway to where?"

House Democrats, in the minority for only the second budget session since 1987 and for the first time since then with a Republican governor, stayed away from the House floor much of Monday and all of Tuesday, "studying" bills and denying Republicans a quorum to conduct business.

Democrats were upset about what they saw as a continuing "power grab" by Gov. Mitch Daniels with respect to a few matters-most notably the bill creating an inspector general. They also appear irked by the lack of concern by majority Republicans about a few partisan issues, including the composition of the State Election Commission, changes in how Marion County judges would be elected, voter identification requirements, and proposed changes in the composition of the Indianapolis International Airport board and the Capital Improvement Board.

While Republicans backed off on some of the issues, Democrats-some of whom still felt disrespected by the majority over the passage of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. bill-continued to believe their only option was the nuclear one.

Many of the measures can be resurrected during the second half of the session, in which bills passed by the House are considered by the Senate and vice versa. House Democratic Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, suggested that roughly one-half of the 80 or so bills that died when the GOP walked out last year (over Bauer's decision not to hear a same-sex marriage ban) ultimately became law. However, it becomes more difficult to keep them alive due to lack of available vehicles.

The Senate has strict rules about "germaneness" of measures, meaning that unrelated items cannot be attached in the same bill. Lawmakers are also wary about how the Indiana Supreme Court might view bills that ambitiously seek to address more than one subject.

There are also practical issues. Some lawmakers are simply wary about adding material to their favored bills, concerned about whether the baggage might attract opposition that would kill the original concept. The addition of new items also reduces the amount of control that the original author-or sponsor in the opposite chamber-has over the measure.

And some measures that might have been able to muscle their way through the Senate based on House passage-daylight-saving time and telecommunications deregulation-will find a tougher path now.

You will hear lots of talk about how certain measures can find their way into the budget. While the budget has become a refuge in recent sessions for policy language, there may be less stomach for such practices under current House and Senate leaders, further reducing flexibility. While riverboat gambling was authorized in 1993 via a packed budget bill, for example, we don't expect a similar situation (which led to a Democratic House and Republican Senate overriding a Democratic governor's veto with just a few hours remaining in the fiscal year) this time around.

You will see, however, the budget bill become a refuge for the Colts stadium funding bill and perhaps a few other fiscal items floating around, such as a property tax cap for Lake County, which means lots of regional horse-trading. In that kind of an environment, with many lawmakers seeking to salvage legislation and few remaining vehicles available to them, horse-trading runs rampant. In this atmosphere, philosophy and politics get pushed aside for practical considerations.

Just how involved will Daniels become in this morass? He can stay above the fray and let some of his legislative package, such as DST, die while blaming Democrats for stalling economic development. He can take his case on the road in marginal Democratic districts, putting pressure on electorally weak Democrats. He can take to paid and earned media to put pressure on both sides to "do the right thing" for all Hoosiers. Or he can insert himself into the debate at the Statehouse, taking aside Democrats and Republicans in private, mediating disputes and assuaging Democratic concerns.

What began as a session marked by all the right buzzwords about bipartisan cooperation and a flurry of activity has become bogged down in partisan frustration and inactivity. Watch to see whether the legislative glass is half-full-or half-empty.

Feigenbaum publishes Indiana Legislative Insight. His column appears weekly while the Indiana General Assembly is in session. He can be reached by e-mail at
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