STATEHOUSE DISPATCH: Daniels seeks to keep bills going

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The first week of March marks the General Assembly’s deadlines for passage of legislation in its chamber of origination. Senate bills must clear the Senate by March 1 and House bills must be approved by the House of Representatives by March 4 to maintain the chance to become law.

Those deadlines meant the end of February was hectic. Activity reached a frenzied level as lawmakers worked both publicly and behind the scenes to make sure their favored pieces of legislation cleared committee consideration to move on to the full House or Senate.

Legislators weren’t the only ones hard at work salvaging assorted measures.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, also spent time and political capital trying to ensure that key elements of his legislative package remained viable.

The governor invited reporters into his office to explain that his proposal to give prosecutorial authority to his newly created post of inspector general was not a raw power grab, as Democrats insisted, nor an attempt to wrest control of local prosecutions from local prosecutors, as some of them groused.

Daniels revealed some tantalizing numbers about complaints that had streamed in to the new Inspector General’s Office about fraud and abuse in state government and outlined how traditional mechanisms for addressing these kinds of questions would be ineffective.

While that did not seem to assuage the concerns of Democrats, it did show that the governor knows how to go above the heads of lawmakers and reach out to the public in terms people can understand. Addressing corruption in government is low-hanging fruit and few members of the general public either understand or care about whose toes will be stepped on-politically or constitutionally-in the process.

Daniels also zipped upstairs from his second floor Statehouse office to huddle with members of the House Republican caucus and to reach out to members of the Democratic leadership as well.

Some might argue that many of our previous governors-even those with legislative backgrounds-suddenly found themselves unable to punch any elevator buttons above the second floor after their election to the Governor’s Office. This governor has been a frequent, and often surprise, visitor to the third and fourth floors, dropping in on lawmakers in their offices and on the floor. While such activity might be frowned upon in other states-and could grow old if he embraces it too frequently-it is certainly a valuable tool for Daniels at this point.

What he was seeking to do was keep some of his key pieces of legislation alive so he can continue to shape them as they move along the process.

That has been one of the more bizarre mantras of this legislative session. We have lost count of the number of pleas from bill authors to keep legislation moving-in committee, from committee to the floor, and from one chamber to the other-strictly based on the bottom-line concept being considered and not the specifics. Keep the legislation moving, lawmakers are being implored, and we’ll deal with the details later.

While a certain amount of this happens in every session, we were led to believe this session would be at least slightly different given the shake-up in committee structure in the House that was contrived to make the committee system the working backbone of the process. That objective seems to have fallen short of the mark, but that’s also not necessarily a negative.

But back to the governor. He has shown a willingness to tackle some tough issues and to fight for them. His visit to the House GOP caucus last week along with meetings with some individual legislators were designed to rally support for his daylight-saving time initiative. This traditionally has not been a partisan issue, but it has been one of the most divisive issues the state has seen (outside of single-class basketball).

Daniels has laid some of his political capital on the line on this bill and it is not one that can earn him a lot of friends, either among legislators who would rather not vote on the issue and displease what may well be half or more of their constituents, or among regular Hoosiers whose microwave and VCR clocks blink “12:00” already because they can’t set them, much less change them twice each year without help from their grandchildren.

So watch for lots of concepts-from a Colts stadium to changes in K-12 education-to stay alive this week, but expect the heavy lifting to take place from mid-March to late April.

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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