From zero to a dozen bills: Senators differ on their passage rates

By: - July 21, 2022 7:00 am

GOP Sen. Kyle Walker’s newly drawn district has him in a tight re-election race. (Indiana General Assembly website)

INDIANAPOLIS – A new analysis found the average Republican senator can expect to pass less than 1 in 3 bills they file, based on a study of legislation introduced and passed by Indiana state senators in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

The overall average passage rate — 31% — was calculated using the mean passing rate for 34 individual senators during the time period and includes 788 bills. The analysis by Indiana Capital Chronicle included only those lawmakers who had served all three years and were part of the supermajority. Since Republicans overwhelmingly control both chambers of the General Assembly, bills authored by Democrats rarely pass or even receive a committee hearing. 

But that sampling of senators included two who didn’t pass a single bill among those years — Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, and Sen. John Crane, R-Avon. 

The bill totals included are lower than the ones of the entire chamber, because some legislators who passed bills didn’t serve all three years such as Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Evansville, who abruptly retired mid-session in 2022 and just missed the bar for inclusion.

Senators with the highest passage rates introduce many bills

The three senators with the highest passage rates all introduce an average of 10 bills yearly and pass more than half of them.

Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, passed 63% of the 30 bills he introduced, beating out Sens. Mark Messmer and Eric Koch, who passed 55% and 53% of their bills, respectively. None of these senators could be reached before press time.

Nearly half of the bills filed by Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, pass, giving her one of the highest passage rates at 48%. She filed 29 bills between 2020 and 2022, with 14 becoming law.

For Rogers, bill inspiration comes from many different sources and can be small fixes – clarifying or updating vague language in an old statute.

“My husband always says that I try to fix things,” Rogers said.

Rogers said during a legislative session she arrives at the Statehouse early and leaves late, sometimes scheduling calls during her three-hour drive from her district along the Michigan border.

“It’s important to talk to everyone that (the) particular legislation is going to impact,” she said. 

When tallying primary authors, Rogers has the sixth-highest passage rate. But Rogers works as the second or third author on many more bills – more than a dozen in each year. The analysis only includes primary authors because they do the most work in passing a bill.

If a bill doesn’t pass, Rogers said she’d introduce it in the subsequent session or try to graft it into another relevant bill. Still even for someone authoring so many bills, some don’t pass.

 

Check back tomorrow to read about the Indiana House rates of passage.

 

“I was very disappointed in the AED bill – they didn’t have time to hear it in the House,” Rogers said. “I was trying to find legislation that was germane and it just didn’t happen.”

The bill would have required that coaches and extracurricular activity leaders keep an automated external defibrillator on hand during physical activities. Some student athletes have suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died, which possibly could have been prevented with a defibrillator.

“I’ll offer it again,” Rogers said. 

Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger (From the Indiana Senate Republicans website)

Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, noted that some senators might introduce few bills because they carry a larger, more complicated piece of legislation that needs more of their time. For Walker in the 2022 session, a bill redefining electronic monitoring standards needed to go through four committees to pass.

“That one took a tremendous amount of time,” Walker said. “(Seven) was a lot as a primary author and the heavy lift is on primary authors.”

Bills involving funding, such as Walker’s, go through their primary committee and then through that chamber’s budget committee before repeating the process in the other chamber.

The analysis of senators didn’t include Walker because voters elected him in 2020 after that year’s session, meaning Walker has served just two sessions. In his first year, Walker said he deliberately didn’t author any bills to learn from his peers and in 2022 he authored seven bills and passed six – giving him one of the highest single-year passage rates. 

Some senators purposefully don’t offer many bills

Some senators on the lower end of the spectrum take pride in introducing and passing so few bills. 

Sen. John Crane, R-Avon, said he’s authored and passed just one bill solo since his 2016 election and introducing a low number of bills — two bills in the three-year span, both in 2020 — was intentional. 

Sen. John Crane, R-Avon (From the Indiana Senate Republicans website)

“If you ask most people, ‘Do you think the government should be passing more laws or less?’ They’d say less,” Crane said. “On the whole, I’m pretty satisfied with the approach I’ve taken.”

Instead Crane, the assistant majority caucus chair, said his position enabled him to support other senators and better their bills.

“You can say maybe if we add this piece to what they’re doing it’ll be even better but the only way you can do that is if you have a good relationship with your colleagues and good communication with them,” Crane said. 

Crane said bill filing limits — similar to how the House operates, which restricts its members to filing just five bills in short sessions — could be beneficial for the Senate.

“I think caps could help with our decision-making process (and) help us prioritize,” Crane said. “The goal is to try to get good bills passed no matter who is supporting it… even if it translates differently on the statline (for me).”

For Sen. Justin Busch, R-Fort Wayne, authoring a smaller number of bills allows him the time to research unintended consequences and interview everyone involved.

“If I came up with 11 great ideas that need to be done, I might think differently,” Busch said. 

Busch introduced 10 bills between 2020 and 2022 and passed two of them — including a bill allowing a nonprofit organization in Fort Wayne to accept credit card payments for a charity duck race fundraiser.

The bill originated from Busch’s home district, where the Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) races roughly 30,000 rubber ducks in the St. Joseph River as part of a fundraiser. The bill took three years to achieve. 

“A lot of bills that I author are to help the people of my district,” Busch said. “They’re Hoosier common sense and bills I can explain very easily to the people I represent.”

Busch said he’s had the same “small government” mindset since being elected in 2018. 

“I don’t need to see my name in the codebook — it’s already pretty thick. If anything, we could probably rip some pages out of it,” Busch said.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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