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In mad dash by state lawmakers, errors can happen

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When Indiana's legislative leaders called the General Assembly back for one day last week, it was because they had discovered a handful of mistakes made earlier this year that just couldn't wait until the next session to be fixed.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said that part-time legislatures working with limited time and resources are going to have mistakes occasionally.

"We're a citizen legislature and we have a short session compared to others," Long said. "Now, we get a lot done in Indiana, but we work hard and we work quickly. And there oftentimes is an avalanche of legislation coming in at the end. And it really overwhelms LSA [Legislative Services Agency] and the Legislature. ... Once in a while there's a mistake. But typically between the proofreading that goes on at the House and the Senate and the LSA, we don't miss very much."

Leaders said last week's meeting was their first time using a "technical corrections day" solely to fix errors since the tool was established by lawmakers in 1995. They used it last year to override Gov. Mike Pence's veto of tax legislation, including a measure that retroactively approved the collection of taxes in Jackson and Pulaski Counties.

But it's not the first time the General Assembly has made a serious mistake.

One of the biggest was when lawmakers accidentally repealed the Family and Social Services Administration, the state's social services agency, in 2011. Lawmakers did not return to fix that problem Instead, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed an executive order ensuring the state's largest agency continued operating until lawmakers could fix their error during the 2012 session.

"Some thought that might not be a bad thing, so we didn't rush back here for that," joked House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

But the errors discovered this year, including drafting mistakes that would have reduced some sentences for child sex offenders and made it harder to arrest suspected shoplifters, were too pressing not to fix before they became law on July 1, Bosma said.

The sprawling nature of the legislation, which capped off a years-long rewrite of the state's entire criminal code, was bound to cause at least some mistakes, he said.

"House Bill 1006 (the criminal sentencing overhaul) was one of the most comprehensive and technical rewrites of the entire criminal code our state has ever seen, so there's no surprise there would be some issues in it that were not resolved in accordance with the intent of all of us," Bosma said.

Before they started using the "technical corrections day" as a one-day backstop to perform the procedural steps needed to approve any fixes, lawmakers had the option of coming back—but only if the governor called for it.

The state's legislative leaders say they're not looking to have lawmakers spend more time at the Statehouse than they need to.

"Obviously, the other way to do it is to have a special session, but that opens the door for a lot of other things and possibilities, and there really wasn't a need for that," Long said. "We did the right thing, but we don't want to make a habit of this."

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