Some long days lie ahead: On a range of issues, from arming school staff to rewriting the criminal code to expanding the school voucher program, the House and Senate have come up with significantly different provisions for the same bill.
“It can get a little tense at times, but it’s a fundamentally healthy part of process,” said Republican Senate Tax and Policy Chairman Brandt Hershman of Buck Creek. “There will be differences of opinion between the parties and within parties, just like there are differences of opinion between friends and within families. I think that, in itself, is a good thing, as well. It’s not a sign of discord; it’s a sign of principled positions on the issues.”
Indiana’s constitution requires the Senate and House each approve identical legislation. To get there on bills that have been significantly amended through the process, two members from each chamber, representing both political parties, meet in a conference committee to decide on the final version of the bill. The conference committee reports, containing the agreed-upon final language, then have to be approved by both chambers before the bill goes to the governor.
Almost anything can happen, including the revival of measures thought dead, since conference committee members can insert language from a related bill that didn’t make it into another one that did.
“People are often surprised when they see these issues come back up again that they thought were dead,” Hershman said. “That’s the nature of the process.”
It can be partisan: Legislative leaders can remove obstinante conference committee members from one party and replace them with one of their own. And it can go down to the deadline. Last year, the final version of the much-debated, much-amended bill that put Indiana’s first-ever statewide smoking ban into place didn’t go up for a vote in the House and Senate until late in the afternoon of the last day of the session.