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STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Lawmakers likely to resurrect best bills in second half

March 14, 2005

The second half of the General Assembly's "long" session is now upon us, even though it doesn't quite feel like it had closure to the first half.

Unless you were in Florida or Arizona watching baseball's spring training games, you are well aware of the House Democrats' tactics that resulted in a lack of quorum on the final days for passage bills from their chamber of origin.

The lack of a quorum meant more than 130 bills died ignominiously on the House floor, without lawmakers even having an opportunity to debate their merits or lack thereof.

Democrats justified their absence by suggesting it was the only way they could derail what they perceived as particularly objectionable legislation, such as the inspector general bill and voter identification requirements, among others-given the party's newfound minority status. Republicans reminded them they were entitled to votes on virtually any measure or amendment, but when the will of the majority prevailed, they should accept it and move on.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, also explained that he offered numerous concessions to Democrats on some of the key bills about which they expressed concerns. But Democrats kept asking for more-moving the goal posts, as he described it-even after the governor thought he had fully accommodated them.

While Daniels' rhetoric about the process being "car-bombed" was, in the minds of many Hoosiers (and all House Democrats) a bit over the top, the week ended, perhaps amazingly, with little animosity between party leaders, between rank-and-file members of both parties, and within each caucus.

That situation, which was not necessarily the case in previous sessions with similar meltdowns, bodes well for the remainder of the session.

Lest you immediately fly into a panic, no one is suggesting the republic will fall if all the dead bills fail to be enacted. While many key matters lost some ground in the Democrat walkout, virtually all can be resurrected. And while some of the work will require that concepts embodied in other bills will fail, not all of those bills would have progressed through the legislative minefield, anyway.

There are a number of Republican lawmakers licking their wounds right now. The majority of Republican House members had never served in a majority and they were beginning to feel good about getting some long-sought measures through committee for the first time. Many of those second-tier items will fall victim to the clash of priorities, as they become subordinated to the "Top 40" list of critical issues compiled by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

Rest assured, however, that 120 House bills did move to the Senate, and almost 230 Senate bills crossed over to the House. That affords plenty of opportunities for many measures to find new homes, even with constitutional restrictions on single-subject matter in a given bill. That's even true considering legislative rules on germaneness of provisions hovering over the shoulders of lawmakers eager to revive their favored legislation.

Understand, also, that many of the dead bills dealt with the same general topics. For example, three House bills that died dealt with casino issues. One would have required an unbiased study of gambling in Indiana, another would have reconstituted the membership of the Indiana Gaming Commission, and a third would have removed the Indiana State Police from their riverboat casino duties and replaced them with a Gaming Commission enforcement division.

These three measures could conceivably be merged into a related bill that remains alive, so the actual number of bills that were killed may not be that daunting.

The big issues will get resolved. There is plenty of room in the budget bill, for example, to insert a Colts stadium-funding measure. And the more items inserted into the budget, the harder it is for assorted interests to oppose it.

Certainly, no one is taking anything for granted, but you should still see a productive session. Even though history suggests anything can happen (or not) until the final gavel falls, things are in place to pick up the pieces.

House Democrats found themselves somewhat chastened by public opinion over their recent actions. Daniels has shown a willingness to compromise with both sides of the aisle and to take his case to the people, in person and on TV. House Republicans were busy reassembling initiatives.

Expect action again.



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 edf@ingrouponline.com.
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