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Monday, March 10, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Looking at the efficacy of legislative study committees, then and now

Doug Masson blogs today on the effectiveness of summer study committees. Some quotes:

Tom LoBianco, writing for the Associated Press has an article on summer study committees entitled “Legislative Studies often precede tough action.” That’s true, but – as the article also discusses – it’s often where legislation goes to die. * * *

[T]he summer study committee is an area where the General Assembly could stand to study the committee process itself and maybe implement more formal procedures. From my perspective anyway, the process seemed fairly slapdash. The witnesses and materials reviewed by legislators seemed arbitrary and far from comprehensive. The meetings could be sporadic and often rushed at the end of the summer and in the first half of fall. The meetings were, at times, pro forma.

The quality of the studies was largely dependent on who the chair of the committee was. Among other things, some legislators are simply more diligent than others. And, of course, if the study gets assigned to a committee where the chairperson isn’t very interested, not a lot is going to happen. (Though that’s true of the regular session committee as well.)

Another factor is that we still have, at least nominally, a part time legislature. These lawmakers mostly have jobs in the “real” world as well. And they have a lot of catch up to do after spending the winter and early spring in session. So, beefing up the summer study committees will be challenging under the best of circumstances.

ILB: The ILB will also weigh in on summer study committees, particularly those that meet every year and are assigned topics by the Legislative Council. My impression is that they often cover too many issues, with little time spent on each one. For instance, an issue may be a topic on one meeting agenda, several speakers may testify, and that likely will be the end of it. At the last meeting there is a final committee report that may summarily address the issue.

LoBianco's story points to the exception, such as:

The best example from this year could be the regulations for religious daycare centers that lawmakers are on the verge of approving. Proposed regulations were often stymied in previous sessions, despite grim reports of child deaths and multiple newspaper investigations that exposed widespread problems. But it wasn’t until after lawmakers spent a summer reviewing the issue that new rules seemed possible.
There was a time in Indiana when most study committees conducted deeper studies and published comprehensive reports. I was a staffer at the Legislative Services Agency during that period, beginning in the 1960s, when there were still biennial sessions, meaning that the interim for studies was much longer. The materials I have been putting together on constitutional revision in Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrate the kind of report that resulted. Of course, some of these efforts had their own full-time staffs. But many of the final reports listed in Vol. 2, pp. 5-6 of the Biennial Report to the Indiana General Assembly, 1969, for instance, were staffed out of the LSA, just as is done now.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 10, 2014 03:25 PM
Posted to Indiana Government