INDIANAPOLIS—During the final weeks of the 2022 legislative session of the Indiana General Assembly, several bills were transformed by conference committees.
What are these? that of the legislator website offers a brief explanation:
“For a bill to become law, it must pass both the House and the Senate in the same form,” he says. “If amendments are added to a bill in the second chamber and passed, a conference committee composed of members of both chambers is appointed to resolve disputes.
“If the speakers reach a compromise, the chambers vote on whether or not to accept the decision of the conference committee. Generally, conference committees are made up of two legislators from each house appointed by the president pro tempore of the senate and the speaker of the house. If the committee is unable to reach a compromise, the bill dies.
Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University in Fort Wayne, called conference committees a “magical place” because of the way they amend bills, often behind closed doors.
“When you look at the grand scheme of all the bills going to the conference committee, you always have to remember, what’s the big picture?” said Downs. “What is the negotiation going on?”
Stripping and inserting invoices
This session, an example of this was the strip-and-insert that was done on Senate Bill 209. In a conference committee, lawmakers took SB 209, which was originally a drug bill, and replaced it with unlicensed transportation legislation.
Democrats disagreed with that decision. In one video released by Indiana House Democrats, Ragen Hatcher Rep. D-Gary explained how it happened. House Democrats also issued a press release on the matter.
“Today, the Supermajority used the conference committee process to resurrect their sweeping proposal to eliminate handgun licenses in Indiana,” Hatcher said. “The Democratic members of this committee have only had a few minutes to review the committee’s report.”
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, disagreed with the conference committee’s decision to suddenly revive the dead bill and withheld time to testify after the meeting of the committee. That’s when an Indiana State Police representative spoke out against the bill.
Often, similar delete and insert procedures are denied if the changes are irrelevant or irrelevant to the original invoice, according to Downs. But the legislature wanted to pass the unlicensed transportation legislation, and it’s become a “nationalized” problem, he said, meaning Indiana appears to be falling behind states that have passed similar legislation.
“They wanted to make sure they did it,” Downs said. “They’ve been trying to do it for years, and given the supermajority, I think a lot of people would wonder why they didn’t do it.”
Change of committee members
The rules under which a particular institution operates matter significantly, Downs said.
In Indiana, each chamber has two conference committee members, plus a few additional members as nonvoting advisers. In other states, it is more common for there to be three or more voting members.
In both Indiana chambers, a unanimous vote and signatures of all speakers are required. This is unique, as many states simply require a majority vote and majority of attendees to sign the report.
Speakers are sent back to their caucuses after a conference committee meeting to decide if they wish to sign a conference committee report. Since all four members must sign off on the report for it to be forwarded to the full chamber, legislative leaders wield the power to replace conference committee members who do not want to adopt reports deemed important to the majority.
During the last session, several members of the Democratic conference committee were replaced by Republican members under the Republican supermajority. On the last day of the session, Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, and Senator Michael Griffin, D-Hammond, were removed from their positions as delegates to gun legislation, HB 1296.
“The supermajority, whatever state you are in, creates an interesting set of circumstances. require supermajority voting to do it,” Downs said. “And if you’re in the supermajority with a party, it becomes a lot easier to make those kinds of changes.”
Indiana House delegates are chosen by the Speaker of the House, while Senate delegates are nominated by the President of the Senate pro tem—Rep. Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Sen. Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. Five states allow the minority leader to nominate or participate in conferences, but Indiana is not one of them.
Following the committee’s adoption of a committee report, a majority is needed to pass legislation on the prosecution of both chambers.
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.