October 20, 2023

Why do 'unpopular' bills sometimes pass through the legislature? Some experts point to partisanship

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During a 2018 demonstration, protesters gather in front of Gov. Eric Holcomb's office as part of a "die in." The group demanded Holcomb veto a law that increased penalties for a drug dealer if a person overdosed and died. It was signed into law four days later.  - Lauren Chapman/IPB News

During a 2018 demonstration, protesters gather in front of Gov. Eric Holcomb's office as part of a "die in." The group demanded Holcomb veto a law that increased penalties for a drug dealer if a person overdosed and died. It was signed into law four days later.

Lauren Chapman/IPB News

How do bills that have notable opposition in testimony pass through the legislature? Our audience was curious.

Andy Downs is the director emeritus of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics. He said it’s important to remember politicians are very in tune with what affects their specific constituents and area.

“If they are not hearing directly from their constituents that an issue is unfavorable, then even if 5,000 people show up at the Statehouse, that does not necessarily mean that the issue is unpopular with their constituents or even throughout the entire state,” he said.

Downs said one of the main contributors to passing what may be considered “unpopular” for some of these constituents is the partisan divide.

“The vast majority of districts in the state of Indiana are very safe,” he said. “They're either safe for Republicans to win or they're safe for Democrats to win. And when that happens, we know there is a decrease in the ability of people to want to work with one another.”

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He said the sheer number of Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly also makes it difficult for Democrats to push through ideas.

“Even if the Democrats really want to participate in the legislative process as legislators, their ability to do so is minimal because the Republicans could still meet,” Downs said. “Even if no Democrats showed up, they would have a quorum. They'd be able to do whatever it is they want to do.”

Downs said despite this, only a small percentage of introduced legislation actually passes during a given legislative session.

“Only 20 to 25 percent of all legislation that's introduced actually passes in the Indiana General Assembly, which means it's easier to kill something than to get something passed,” he said. “And that may give some people hope.”

He encouraged Hoosiers to also form personal connections with their lawmakers to more easily bring up issues to them that could be introduced in legislation.

This story is a part of Civically, Indiana — a project to answer both the how and why of Indiana’s state government. To take part in the conversation or find stories like this, join our text group The Indiana Two-Way by texting the word "Indiana" to 73224.

Violet is our daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

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