Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Underwriter Message

How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

The Market Street, eastside entrance to the Indiana Statehouse. There is snow on the ground with a blue sky and with a few clouds behind the building.
Lauren Chapman
/
IPB News
Indiana’s legislative session began on Jan. 8. Lawmakers are tackling issues like Indiana’s literacy gaps, child care, absenteeism in schools and health care costs. But legislative leaders are also tempering expectations of the session, calling it a “transition” year.

Indiana’s legislative session began on Jan. 8. Lawmakers are tackling issues like Indiana’s literacy gaps, child care, absenteeism in schools and health care costs. But legislative leaders are also tempering expectations of the session, calling it a “transition” year.

Hundreds of bills are filed every year, and it’s difficult for even journalists – who are literally paid to – to keep up with all of them. How can you keep up? Here’s our guide for how to navigate Indiana’s legislative session.

How does a bill become a law in Indiana?

Indiana Public Broadcasting has created a number of tools to help you get a firm grasp on how the legislative session works, including an Oregon Trail-style game, and our printable one-sheet available in English and Spanish (on the second page). And we created a project called Civically, Indiana to help Hoosiers more easily engage in state government. From here, we’ll hit the highlights and the places you can interact with lawmakers.

Before the legislative session starts:

Pre-introduction of a bill: An idea is developed, and a senator or representative decides to sponsor it. They draft a bill, with research and technical help from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA).

Introduction: The legislator enters the bill into their respective chamber. There’s one exception: bills raising revenue can only originate in the House.

Once the legislative session starts:

First reading: This is a procedural step. Bills are typically moved forward in big groups together. From here, a bill is assigned to one of 25 House committees or one of 22 Senate committees.

Committee hearing: The committee chair needs to call for a hearing on a bill for it to move forward – though they may or may not ask for testimony. If they do, this is the step for you to make your voice heard. It’s at this point in the process that Hoosiers, advocates and other stakeholders may testify to the committee about the bill. Even if the bill passes its initial committee, it may be reassigned to another – depending on the content or the potential fiscal impact of the bill.

The committee has four options: it can amend, approve, or reject the bill entirely; or the bill doesn’t get brought up again that session by the committee for any kind of action. More often than not, if there aren’t enough votes to pass the bill, it won’t be voted on by the committee.

This is also the step in which most bills die during the legislative session. If a committee chair doesn’t call for a hearing before legislative deadlines, then the bill won’t move forward.

Second reading: Once the bill is called for second reading, anyone in the chamber can offer an amendment. But each amendment must be approved by a simple majority.

On second reading, a bill only dies if it misses a legislative deadline or the bill’s author decides not to advance it past this stage.

Third reading: After advancing past second reading, bills are eligible for third reading – passage by the full chamber. This is the point lawmakers debate the bill’s overall merit.

If the bill’s author doesn’t believe they have enough votes to pass, or if they don’t agree with the amendments made to the bill, they may not call the bill for third reading.

Depending on the length of the session (and weekends or holidays), House bills must be heard for third reading by Feb. 5 or Feb. 27 and Senate bills by Feb. 6 or Feb. 28. Those deadlines are extended to the next business day if they fall on a weekend or holiday.

Send to the opposite chamber: Bills go through the exact same process in the opposite chamber – first reading, committee hearing, second reading, and third reading.

The big deadline is on third reading – House bills must be heard for third reading in the Senate by March 5 or April 18. Senate bills must be heard in the House by March 4 or April 17. Again, those deadlines are extended to the next business day if they fall on a weekend or holiday.

If no changes are made to a bill in the opposite chamber, then the bill goes to the governor’s desk upon passage at third reading.

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 765-275-1120. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues, including our project Civically, Indiana.

Conference committee: If changes were made during the second half of the legislative session, either the bill’s author agrees to those changes and the original chamber passes the bill on a concurrence vote and sends it to the governor, or the bill is sent to conference committee.

In conference committee, the largely private group of lawmakers reconcile the changes made to the bill. If they come up with acceptable language, it is voted on by both chambers again, and then sent to the governor.

Sent to the governor: The governor has seven days to do one of three things: sign the bill into law; do nothing and the bill becomes law without their signature; or they can veto the bill. If the governor vetoes the bill, it goes back to the House and Senate, which have the opportunity to override the veto with a simple majority vote. If both chambers achieve that majority, the bill becomes law.

The legislature has overridden four of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s vetoes.

Want a printable one-sheet version of these steps? Find it here, available in both English and Spanish.

Lauren is our digital editor. Contact her at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

Tags
Lauren is the digital editor for our statewide collaboration, and is based in Indianapolis at WFYI. Since starting for IPB News in 2016, she's covered everything from protests and COVID-19 to esports and policy. She's a proud Ball State University alumna and grew up on the west side of Indianapolis.