Apr 19, 2023 - News

Axios explains: Conference committees

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Welcome to conference committee season at the Indiana Statehouse — one of the wonkiest parts of the legislative process.

Why it matters: The fast-moving process happens largely behind closed doors and can result in major, substantive changes to legislation.

How it works: Before a bill can become law, both chambers need to pass the exact same language. This can happen in three ways:

  • The second chamber can pass the original bill without changes.
  • The originating chamber can accept changes made by the second chamber (called concurrence).
  • The originating chamber can disagree with changes (called dissent) and send the bill to conference committee.

Details: Once a dissent is filed, a Republican and Democrat from each chamber are assigned to a conference committee for the bill, and they meet to hammer out the differences. The compromise bill must return to both chambers for a final vote.

  • This is where lawmakers make changes — often with little public discussion — that can range from minor up to a "strip-and-insert," where the original language is removed and replaced wholesale.

State of play: Session must adjourn by April 29.

Here are key bills heading to conference committee in the final two weeks of the 2023 legislative session:

House Bill 1001: The budget bill

Details: The state's biennial budget will probably always go to conference committee. Each chamber has its own funding priorities, plus lawmakers are waiting on the updated revenue forecast that will be released Wednesday to help finalize the spending plan.

What they're saying: "The Senate Republican version of the budget is certainly better than House Republicans' budget, but Hoosiers still deserve better from their hard-earned tax dollars," said Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.

The bottom line: Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, so Democrats will have little say in the budget that passes.

Senate Bill 1: Mental health funding

Details: Strengthening mental health resources was supposed to be a priority this legislative session and this proposal would establish a statewide crisis response system.

Yes, but: Lawmakers can't agree on how to fund the initiative. Leaders in the Senate have proposed a cellphone fee to fund the 988 crisis hotline, but the House has suggested, instead, increasing the cigarette tax.

Senate Bill 4: Public health funding

Details: The bill is based on recommendations from a group commissioned by Gov. Eric Holcomb to overhaul the state's public health system in the face of abysmal health outcomes for Hoosiers.

  • Many of those recommendations, though, including the funding levels requested by the commission and Holcomb, have been stripped from the bill as it moved through the Statehouse.

Of note: The House added language that calls for an investigation into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by state agencies and local governments.

Between the lines: Some far-right members of the GOP are still upset with Holcomb and his health department for the state shutdown during the pandemic's early days.

Senate Bill 391: School referendum sharing

Details: Charter schools in Marion, Lake, St. Joseph and Vanderburgh counties would get a proportional share of operating and school safety referenda dollars. Referendum sharing would remain optional in other counties — for now.

Context: Charter schools have long wanted a greater share of property tax dollars enjoyed by traditional public schools, including those raised through referendums.

House Bill 1623: Administrative rulemaking

Details: The bill would give the General Assembly greater power over rulemaking generally left to state agencies in an effort to provide a greater check on executive authority in the state.

The other side: Environmental advocates are concerned about changes that would put lawmakers in charge of new pesticide regulations and prevent state environmental regulators from making stricter coal ash rules than federal ones.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Indianapolis.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Indianapolis stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Indianapolis.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more