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General Assembly reaches midpoint

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At the midway point in this Indiana General Assembly session, dozens of bills died this week when one house didn't vote on them while others moved on for further consideration.

An Indiana Lawyer review of the legislation listed on the state legislature's Web site shows that 135 of 420 Senate bills and 104 of 391 House bills survived, though many bills mirrored similar measures or have even been merged into other legislation that's moved on. The totals include numerous vehicle bills that could have been used for particular issues if needed as the legislative session progressed.

Some pieces of legislation that died involved court reporting licensing, an oversight commission for the state's judicial computer systems, and a resolution involving judicial mandates. One bill that would have dubbed any non-attorneys' illegal practice of law as racketeering activity survived a House committee but didn't get a final vote, to the surprise of the those in the legal community watching the legislation.

But various bills moved on, including legislation that would: expand the statutory framework for problem-solving courts, repeal a 2009 special session change giving the Indiana Department of Child Services more authority on out-of-state placements, revise the state's grandparent visitation laws, allow Marion County to convert all of its commissioners into magistrates at no expense to the state, expand the authority of the Attorney General's Office and Solicitor General in various ways, and allow magistrates statewide to serve as part-time senior judges. A bill that would revise Indiana's rights of publicity statue and create an interim commission to study that issue more in-depth also continues to move.

Even in the tough budget times, when some courts held off requesting new judicial officers and resources, lawmakers approved the only request for a new court that came before it so far this session: HB 1269. It would both unify the Clark Circuit and Superior courts and also create a new Bartholomew Superior Court in July 2011 and pay for it using a fee of at least $20 on each traffic infraction. Lawmakers had expressed concern previously because it could change how the state handles the state court funding, but the bill passed the House unanimously by a 98-0 vote.

One close vote on a legal-related bill was with HB 1255, which involves proof of collateral-source payments and would prohibit a court from admitting into evidence any write-off, discount, or other deduction associated with a collateral-source payment in a personal injury or wrongful death action. This topic was the subject of an Indiana Supreme Court decision last year in Stanley v. Walker, 906 N.E.2d 852 (Ind. 2009), which held that the state's collateral source statute doesn't bar evidence of discounted amounts to determine the reasonable value of medical services provided to plaintiffs in those actions. The bill made it out of committee, and representatives voted 57-40 to send it to the Senate.

Now, the opposite house of the General Assembly must consider all legislation, and some issues that have died already could be weaved into bills that are still alive. Committee meetings begin again next week, and each side has until March 3 to take a final vote on legislation and then, if necessary, work out final details in conference committees before the session ends March 14.

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