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Why doesn’t Indiana have citizen-led ballot initiatives?

By Abigail Ruhman, IPB News | Published on in Government, Health, Politics
Indiana is one of 24 states with no mechanism for a citizen-led effort to put an initiative on the ballot. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Ohio voters said yes to citizen-led ballot initiatives on abortion rights and the legalization of cannabis in November. Why doesn’t Indiana have a similar option? That’s a question our listeners wanted to know. It would require a change to the state constitution, but lawmakers haven’t shown interest.

Indiana is one of 24 states with no mechanism for a citizen-led effort to put an initiative on the ballot.

Randall Shepard, a former chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court and a senior judge at the Indiana Court of Appeals, wrote a book on the history of Indiana law. He said the state’s larger attitude was that the legislature should be making the decisions – a sentiment expressed at Indiana’s last constitutional convention in 1851.

“One of the members stood up on the floor and said, ‘No, that’s what we’ve been hired to do. We shouldn’t shove this off on our fellow citizens. They’ve got plenty to do,'” Shepard said.

In November, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) shared a similar stance on the issue.

“We pass laws here in the General Assembly,” Bray said. “And we hope and ask that voters hold us accountable for the policies that we have.”

READ MORE: Perception of bipartisanship in Indiana legislature often doesn’t match reality

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Shepard also said there hasn’t been a significant push from the public on the topic. He estimated a majority of Hoosiers would favor citizen-initiated amendments, but a lot of people would have no opinion.

“There hasn’t been a public agitation or public movement,” Shepard said. “And I don’t know how the legislature has viewed it. It hasn’t been discussed a lot in the last 20 or 30 years.”

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) said recently he will push to allow citizen-led ballot initiatives in Indiana — something GOP leaders flatly oppose.

To change the Indiana Constitution, the General Assembly would have to approve a joint resolution with the proposed change in two different years, with a general election occurring between the times that the resolution is approved. Then, the change is put to a public vote.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.