The internal changes to the Indiana Legislature’s interim study committee structure are not readily visible, but majority and minority leaders are optimistic the alterations will make the process more efficient and control the workload.
Under key provisions of a bill approved during the 2014 session of the Indiana General Assembly, the number of topics has been reduced and the Legislative Council has more control over what issues are studied.
The bill also alters the composition of the committees. Legislators now appointed to the interim committees will be drawn from the standing committees that review similar topics during the session. Any lay members appointed now must be authorized by the Legislative Council.
“First of all, I think it’s going to streamline the process of appointing the committees,” Indiana Speaker of the House Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said of the change in structure. “It has already streamlined the process of getting agreed upon topics before the committees.”
Working under Senate Enrolled Act 80, the Legislative Council met May 14 and unanimously approved the resolution that assigned about 37 topics to 15 interim study committees.
The Personnel Subcommittee of the Legislative Council sifted through about 90 topics submitted by legislators for further review by the interim committees. Bosma emphasized the selection process was bipartisan and that every member of the subcommittee had topic proposals rejected.
Interim study committees exist to examine matters that come before the General Assembly but are too complex to handle in a single legislative session. The committees can study the issues and make reports as well as recommendations which the Legislature can then use.
However, some legislators felt the number of interim committees and topics had become too unwieldy. As Bosma explained, upwards of 70 topics were being assigned and the committees did not have enough time to adequately study them.
The purpose of the bill “was really to organize the topics in a reasonable fashion,” Bosma said. “It seemed like the fall-back position for every unsuccessful initiative was to require a study by the interim study committee and that’s what we said last year we were going to get away from.”
Speaking after the May 14 meeting, key members of the Legislative Council were supportive of the changes.
“Well, I’m a very positive person and I don’t see alligators in mud puddles,” said Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford. “So I will not express any concern as of yet. If it turns out that there’s something wrong there, then I’ll be the first to be yelling about it.”
The new bill enables the Senate president and the House speaker to each appoint four members from the Legislature to every committee while the minority leaders in both chambers can each name three members.
In addition, only the Legislative Council can authorize the addition of individuals who are not state representatives or senators. Lay members will be a part of four committees including the Interim Study Committee on Corrections & Criminal Code and the Interim Study Committee on Courts & Judiciary.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane acknowledged the number of lay people involved in the interim study process will probably be reduced. Not every committee previously had non-legislative members but some had as many as 15 which, the Anderson Democrat said, was too much.
“So we did reduce the numbers, but we did, I think, want to preserve that support and have lay members involved in certain committees,” Lanane said.
The Indiana Judges Association had asked the Legislative Council to retain the two judicial members who had been on the former Commission on Courts and put them on the courts and judiciary interim committee.
“We asked for the chief justice and a trial court judge to be members of the committee,” said IJA President John Pera of Lake Superior Court. “We think it is important if you’re going to look at and make recommendations about the judiciary, then judges should be allowed to provide input.”
Bosma noted lay persons will not be shut out of the process. If they are not members of an interim committee, they can still testify and let the policymakers hear their voice.
The interim study committee structure bill, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and sponsored in the House of Representatives by Bosma, established 17 committees under broad categories like agriculture and natural resources, environmental affairs, government and public health, behavioral health, and human services.
Lanane does not anticipate problems under the new committee structure.
“I think the Senate bill made some positive changes just in terms of how administratively do we establish the committees and we process the committees,” he said. “But I don’t think it disrupts what I think is the very important work of the interim study committees.”
Many of the topics assigned for the upcoming interim session arose from legislation that was considered during the 2014 Legislature. Among the committees and their topics are:
• Interim Study Committee on Corrections & Criminal Code: autism spectrum disorders of defendants, juvenile justice issues and changes to the criminal code;
• Interim Study Committee on Courts & Judiciary: digital privacy, nonparty defense, adoption and requests for new courts or changes in the jurisdiction of existing courts;
• Interim Study Committee on Education: pre-kindergarten and student discipline including the suspension, expulsion or exclusion of a student from school.
The chairs of the study committee will not be able to introduce additional topics without the approval of the Legislative Council’s Personnel Subcommittee. Bosma reiterated this provision is meant to control the number of topics. Without the preapproval process, he said, the concern is the issues not assigned would be submitted directly to the chairs of the committees to pick up.
During the 2013 interim session, Steele’s Commission on Courts had been assigned the sole topic of reviewing the need for a new magistrate in Vanderburgh Circuit Court, but he filled the agenda with additional topics regarding bail bonds and the use of psychiatrists.
Although he will now have to get thumbs up before assigning new topics, Steele does not believe he will have a problem getting preapproval of any topic he wants to study.
If changes need to be made to the new interim committee structure, Bosma is confident the legislative leaders will make adjustments on a bipartisan basis.
“This is a new process for all of us,” Bosma said, “so we’ll let it shake out a little bit, put a few miles on it and see if the tires need to be rotated.”•