Indiana News

More Bills Being Assigned to Legislature's Land of No Return

Rules Committee is legislature's burial ground, but some bills will survive

1/10/2013

This year's legislative session is seeing an unusual number of bills sent to the General Assembly's burial ground.

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So far, 17 bills and two constitutional amendments have been assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, usually the kiss of death for a bill. The Senate's president pro tem, who decides which bills go to which committees, traditionally chairs Rules himself, and can kill a bill by not holding a hearing on it. The House Rules Committee performs the same function, though the House speaker usually names an ally to head the panel rather than chairing it himself.

President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) says some bills in Rules aren't necessarily dead, but are just parked there while he and other legislative leaders weigh whether to debate them this session. He says one example is Senator Jim Banks' (R-Columbia City) bill to allow college students to carry guns on campus.

"I understand his intent, to let students to protect themselves from attack, but there are obviously some concerns on the flip side," Long says.

Also still up in the air is the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Unlike bills, refusing to hear a constitutional amendment this year has no effect on when or whether it becomes law -- approving the marriage amendment either this year or next still sends it to the voters in November 2014. Long says senators and staffers are comparing the amendment with the California amendment currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court. If legislators conclude the Indiana amendment rests on the same legal footing as the California case, they'll likely put off the amendment till next year and await the Court's ruling this summer.

Long says there's no deliberate effort to bury more bills in Rules -- it's just the way a case-by-case review of bills has worked out. The roster in limbo ranges from conservative causes like abortion and drone surveillance to legislative perennials like class basketball and the start of the school year.

Long says some bills in Rules really are dead, such as Senator Dennis Kruse's (R-Auburn) proposal to let local schools require the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. Long says the bill is unquestionably unconstitutional, and was filed more to make a statement than to win passage.

Kruse authored seven of the 17 bills in Rules and co-sponsored three others.

Some bills are in Rules because there's nowhere else for them to go, The committee's full name is the Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee, which often makes it the destination for bills affecting legislators themselves. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) says he hastened to assure the author of the one bill he's sent to Rules so far -- a bill on legislators' outside employment -- that he wasn't trying to kill it by assigning it there.

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