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Why do Indiana lawmakers sometimes pass 'unpopular' bills? Some experts point to partisanship

During a 2018 demonstration, protesters gather on the floor in front of Gov. Eric Holcomb's office as part of a "die in."
Lauren Chapman
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.

How do bills that have notable opposition in testimony pass through the state Legislature? Indiana Public Broadcasting's 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.”

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on statewide issues, including our project Civically, Indiana.

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% 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 IPB's daily news reporter. Contact her at vcomberwilen@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @ComberWilen.

Copyright 2023 IPB News.

Violet Comber-Wilen