This is a very slightly modified reprint of a post from 2010, providing some small insight into the process of how Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency converts a bunch of legislators’ ideas into a stack of bill drafts they can consider and vote on during the legislative session.
Maureen Hayden, writing for CNHI, had written an article (in 2011) on bill requests being made by legislators and being drafted by employees at Indiana’s Legislative Services Agency (LSA). At that time, there had been about 900 bill requests (in the December heading into a long session.) We’re heading into a short session this year, so that number is likely to be less. However, the General Assembly is pretty erratic about what they make available to the public prior to the session. So, for example, the House of Representatives has posted only 5 bills. That number will surely explode tomorrow when the legislature comes back into session. Anyway, the drafting process:
I used to work for LSA back in ’96 – ’99. Ms. Hayden reported in 2010 that LSA consisted of “about 80 lawyers, fiscal analysts and support staff.” Most of the bill requests are drafted by the lawyers in the section of LSA called the Office of Bill Drafting and Research (OBDAR). There were 18 of us when I was in that office. The lawyers had fiscal analyst counterparts in the Office of Fiscal Management and Analysis (OFMA). The fiscal analyst provides a report on the fiscal impact of a given piece of legislation. A third branch of LSA is the Office of Code Revision. After my stint at OBDAR, I became a deputy director at OCR. Our job, during session, was to edit the bill drafts submitted by the OBDAR attorneys.
The way it worked was, a legislator would come in and meet with the director of OBDAR and tell him what he or she wanted, generally, in terms of legislation. The director summarized the request and assigned it to a bill drafting attorney. (I don’t know how, exactly, the OFMA analysts got assigned, but there was a corresponding assignment to a fiscal analyst.) The drafting attorney would, in a lot of cases, just draft the bill without having to do a lot of extra research. A good chunk of these bills are simply repeats of requests from prior years. A fair number of others are pretty basic — e.g., change the speed limit from 65 to 70 mph. But, there are still plenty of requests that are complicated.
For the complicated ones, you work out the questions that need to be answered, and try to get in touch with the requesting legislator. This can be a challenge – these folks are very busy. Then, you have to get the legislator to slow down enough to pay attention to the, usually boring, details of the issues you need to work through. A lot of legislators are frenetic, big picture types — not generally inclined to put everything on hold to really bear down on niggling details.
A lot of times, lobbyists are involved – either the legislator is carrying water for a particular group or that group is a trusted source of information and policy advice for the legislator. So, you’ll have to talk with those folks. Not uncommonly, you’ll get a draft piece of legislation that has originated with the lobbying group. Often, these drafts are horrible messes that don’t really pin down who gets to do what to whom and under what circumstances. They require an extra step. Before you can get to work, you have to discern what these drafts are actually trying to accomplish. Only then can get to work on drafting language that actually accomplishes the goal.
Because of the legislative calendar, the bulk of bill drafting season coincides with the holiday season. Elections take place in early November. Legislators get organized through early November. Bill requests really get going in the latter half of November. What’s really fun is when a legislator pops into LSA on his way to the airport in Indy to drop off a pile of bill requests before he or she flies off to a Christmas vacation some place warm with the family. Anyway, you end up with long days and nights of drafting through the end of November all of December and into January before the General Assembly kicks into gear the first or second week of the new year.
The good folks at LSA are a little like legislative elves, slaving away in Santa’s sweatshop, churning out bills for good little representatives and senators to introduce at the beginning of the session.
As for the number of bills produced, from talking with folks who have been at LSA for a long time, it seems that the number is essentially a function of the technological ability to produce the documents. It used to be that setting the type and producing the paper was more of a barrier to creating bills. With word processing and reproduction getting easier and easier, that has allowed the number of bills to increase over the years.