INDIANAPOLIS — The otherwise tranquil 2018 Indiana General Assembly ended its annual session in chaos and confusion Wednesday when a few priority measures failed to receive final votes prior to the midnight mandatory adjournment deadline.
A combination of lawmakers refusing to compromise, questionable time management by the Republican House and Senate leaders, and potential delay tactics employed by Democrats prevented at least five proposals expected to be enacted into law from advancing to the governor's desk.
They included House Bill 1315 which would have further reduced the role of the already powerless elected trustees of the Gary Community School Corp. by making them merely an advisory board to the district's emergency manager and limiting public board meetings.
Because that measure did not pass, Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley still will be required to regularly consult with the school board about the district's budget and other policies, even as Hinckley retains total control over the district's finances and academic programs.
Also failing to advance was any legislation authorizing the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue three new permits for on-premises alcohol consumption at Centennial Village restaurants, on top of the standard allotment of alcohol sale permits available in Munster.
The Munster alcohol permits, which are seen as key for helping to develop the "downtown" district, at various times were considered for insertion in House Bill 1419 and Senate Bill 242.
Neither measure passed both chambers.
Other legislation that faltered at the deadline included House Bill 1230, providing for enhanced school safety funding and oversight; House Bill 1341, regulating autonomous vehicles; and House Bills 1104 and 1316, addressing various tax matters.
In addition, a plan to turn House Bill 1214 into a measure authorizing individuals to carry guns in churches that meet in school buildings where guns typically are forbidden, as well as eliminating handgun carry license fees, never got off the ground.
Chaos at session's end
As the clock ticked toward midnight, when the General Assembly is required by law to adjourn for the year, it became increasingly clear that it would not be able to act on all of the still-pending legislation.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, attempted to hurry things along by urging debates on various proposals to end quickly so lawmakers could vote and get on to the next item.
However, House Democrats insisted that some of the more significant proposals, such as the restructuring of Indiana's workforce programs in Senate Bill 50, deserved extended discussion to fully understand all the nuances and implications of the changes.
But debating takes take time.
In fact, the entire process in final days of session, when representatives and senators are working to hammer out compromise versions of measures that already have passed both chambers with different provisions, all takes a lot of time.
First, lawmakers have to compromise. Then the agreement has to be put into legislative language, be considered in private meetings of the Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers, approved for floor consideration by the House and Senate rules committees and finally debated and voted on.
The Senate managed to quickly act on everything besides the Gary school board legislation. The House Rules Committee still was considering several measures when midnight struck.
Bosma reportedly claimed that the clock in the House vote tallying computer was seven minutes behind and there still was time for the House to approve the remaining legislation.
But House Democrats pointed to the large vote screens at the front of the chamber that already displayed a March 15 date. State law requires the General Assembly adjourn in even-numbered years no later than March 14.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb then attempted to save the day by sending legislators a directive to extend their session by one hour.
But faced with the questionable legality of such a move, Bosma and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, ultimately decided to adjourn instead.
The Senate gaveled out at 12:08 a.m. and the House at 12:14 a.m. No votes were taken in either chamber after midnight.
Holcomb spokeswoman Stephanie Wilson declined to comment on what exactly Holcomb instructed lawmakers to do or to identify the governor's authority to extend the legislative session.
Bosma said the failure of lawmakers to complete their business was due to Senate Republicans essentially taking Tuesday off and House Democrats using the midnight deadline to try and talk to death legislation that they opposed.
"Our Senate colleagues were proposing changes to these conference committee reports as late as 10:30 tonight," Bosma said. "We just ran out of time."
He also suggested that the forthcoming Senate leadership battle to succeed Long, who is retiring in November, played a role in preventing effective cooperation between the Republican-controlled chambers.
"When people are focused on that, rather than on completing the legislative session — which is understandable with the circumstances they have now — it is a distraction, and I'm sure it added to the complication here at the end of the day," Bosma said.
In addition, Bosma criticized House Democrats for "slow-walking" the process in the Rules Committee and on the chamber floor.
"At the very end here, the Democrat minority saw the opportunity to slow the whole thing down with so much business to be accomplished in the waning hours, and that's unfortunate," Bosma said.
Long rejected Bosma's assertion that the Senate was disengaged on Tuesday and for part of the day Wednesday as it honored its retiring members.
He said the refusal of some Republican House members to compromise on key legislation, particularly autonomous vehicles and water infrastructure, contributed to the chaos at the end of session.
"There was one person who made things extremely difficult for the entire body today and that's Rep. (Ed) Soliday, from Valparaiso," Long said.
"I don't know why he had what appears to have been a meltdown in many of our people's eyes on various issues, but he was involved in some key pieces of legislation and he slowed it down."
Soliday disputed that he had any kind of meltdown: "If he says I had a meltdown with him — he's a liar."
Long also condemned House leaders for attempting to add language to the school safety proposal that never had been considered by either chamber which would have allowed schools to borrow from Indiana's Common School Fund to pay for safety improvements.
"We just could not get to yes on some of these," Long said. "It wasn't because we were sitting around twirling our thumbs. We were working."
"But it takes two to tango and we couldn't get that dance together for a lot of these bills until very late in the day."
House Democratic Leader Terry Goodin, D-Austin, said all the blame rests on the Republicans, who control every office in the Statehouse.
"It was complete and total mismanagement," Goodin said. "I think it's atrocious that we could not get a school safety bill passed, that's laying at their feet, they should have got it done."
Long suggested that Holcomb could call a special session later in the year to try and enact some of the measures that got left behind.
Bosma, meanwhile, disagreed that a special session is necessary. "The republic won't be lost over a couple of tax bills," he said.
In a statement issued shortly before 4 a.m. Thursday, Holcomb hinted that a special session could be in the offing.
"After meeting with Speaker Bosma and Senator Long, I’ll look at all that can be done to complete unfinished business — whether that’s by administrative or legislative authority, if needed," he said.