Parliamentarians, preserving Indiana Senate traditions

By Sarah Ramon
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS – When named the first female Senate parliamentarian in Indiana history in November 1982, Kristi Hill didn’t give the accomplishment much thought.

“It’s not a job most people ever have any reason to know exists,” Hill, 66, said. “It’s a pretty low-profile job and I really didn’t think that much about it.”

Senate Parliamentarian Rebecca Kasper stands with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch at the rostrum. Photo By Dustin Beach, TheStatehouseFile.com

But, without her, the Senate wouldn’t have run as smoothly as it had.

During the 1983 and 1984 General Assembly sessions, Hill advised the lieutenant governor and the Senate on everything from how to vote on bills and amendments to the full process of a bill becoming a law.

The role of the parliamentarian is to be the Senate’s advisor on the interpretation of its unique rules and precedents. As president of the Senate, the lieutenant governor appoints and works closely with the parliamentarian.

Much of her knowledge came from extensive studying of an old, thick manual written by Thomas Jefferson for the use of the U.S. Senate: Jefferson’s Manual.

“I don’t think that there were many of us who even had a copy,” Hill said. “Maybe the majority attorney had a copy but, often, mine was the only one around and I may be the only one who had actually read that thing cover to cover.”

Before being appointed as the state’s first female Senate parliamentarian by former Lt. Gov. John Mutz, Hill familiarized herself with the process when she covered the Senate while working for The Associated Press.

After graduating from law school, Hill worked for former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut as a legislative liaison between the city and the legislators. She developed close relationships with the senators in the position, including Mutz, who was a state senator at that time.

Hill said she believed working closely with senators in her previous positions led to her being selected as the parliamentarian.

“I thought that you needed a familiarity with the way the Senate operated,” Hill said. “They have their own operating procedures and I think you need, at least I believe you needed, a commitment to fairness and to try to anticipate any issues that might come up and work towards a resolution of those.”

Hill said the best part of her position was seeing Indiana’s government operate in person.

“I always have believed it ought to be a requirement before you vote for a senator or state representative, that you go and sit at least in the gallery for a couple of days and watch how they do their jobs,” Hill said. “There are an amazing number of very confident people who take time off.”

As Hill reflected on her time spent at the Statehouse, newly-selected Senate parliamentarian Rebecca Kasper said she was surprised to be selected as the third female in the role in the state’s history.

Rebecca Kasper, the newly-selected Senate parliamentarian, took office on Jan. 3, 2017. She is the third female in the position in Indiana history. Photo by Sarah Ramon, TheStatehouseFile.com

“I was delighted. I was quite honored,” Kasper said. “I told the lieutenant governor that I was mostly honored and would endeavor to serve her ably and well.”

When newly-elected Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch took office, her transition team reached out to Kasper about the position as former Senate parliamentarian Gene Leeuw decided to retire after 12 years.

Since the Senate went back into session a week prior to Crouch’s inauguration, the parliamentarian position was one of the first that needed to be staffed. Using her background with the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and as a session attorney in the House of Representatives, Kasper applied and was offered the position.

On Jan. 3, Kasper began her journey as the third female in the role.

“There’s not a lot that can really prepare you for this position. I spent a great deal of December studying the rules – the Senate has its own rules of procedures –  so I spent a lot of time studying those,” Kasper said. “I met with Gene Lou, who was gracious enough to take the time to meet with me and give me some tips and pointers of what I could expect.”

On a day-by-day basis, Kasper reviews legislation on the calendar, prepares Crouch on what bills and amendments will be discussed and prepares her for controversial bills that could prompt long discussion.

Kasper said Crouch is a tremendous woman to work for and plans to create a comfortable environment for all senators during her time in the position.

“I’m mostly looking forward to making sure that she has the smoothest possible experience she can have as she presides over the Senate,” Kasper said. “And make sure the senators feel like that they have good access to her and that we’re being responsive to them as well.”

Sarah Ramon is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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