Sen. Stoops has introduced SJR 10 which would permit an initiative and referendum process in Indiana. Currently there is no process in Indiana for initiating legislation or constitutional amendments independently of the General Assembly. This would amend Article 4, section 1 of the Indiana Constitution to provide that “the people,” independently of the General Assembly have the power to:
(1) Propose statutes and amendments to the Constitution of the State of Indiana.
(2) Adopt or reject their proposed statutes or amendments to the Constitution of the State of Indiana by ballot.
(3) Approve or reject by ballot any statute, or section or part of any statute, enacted by the General Assembly
A measure (defined as a statute or constitutional amendment) is to be put on the ballot for a vote if a petition with the text of the measure gets signed by voters equaling 2% of the number of voters in the previous Secretary of State race. This is referred to as an “initiative.”
A “referendum” is the power to “approve or reject” all or part of legislation adopted by the General Assembly. The referendum gets on the ballot by a petition with 2% of the number of voters as voted in the last Secretary of State race. The legislature can amend or repeal legislation affected by referendum. They can’t do that with legislation adopted by initiative.
I don’t believe it says anything about when the initiative or referendum goes on the ballot. Special election? Next general election?
The amendment then directs the General Assembly to adopt legislation which would similarly impose the initiative and referendum process on units of local government.
The problem with this sort of thing is that the electorate is not usually all that engaged and, even if you don’t think your legislator sufficiently understands the laws he or she is passing, this pales in comparison to how little your average voter will be familiar with the context of these laws. Even though the process appears very democratic and perhaps that’s even the intent — more often than not, I expect that this process would be used by interests with money who can demagogue an issue to their advantage.
Update I had intended to mention this , but then forgot until Matt (not sure he wants credit or not, so I’ll leave it at the first name!) brought up Ohio on Facebook. I am cautiously supportive of a process which I (perhaps mistakenly) believe exists in Ohio — a “veto only” sort of referendum process that allows voters to hold a referendum on passed legislation in order to repeal it. So, they can veto legislation but not propose it. I don’t think I’m conflicted on whether would support a line item veto for this sort of process or, alternatively, only an up or down vote on a bill. My first inclination would be to require an up or down vote on the entire bill that was passed rather than the ability to pick particular sections of the bill. Think, for example, if a bill had expenditures and taxes to support those expenditures, then the citizens came along and repealed only the taxes but kept the expenditures. But, that makes things awfully messy if, for example, objectionable social legislation is squirreled away in an otherwise very necessary and appropriate budget bill. So, I like this sort of veto-only referendum process much better in theory than the referendum and initiative process; but it still has some very thorny problems.
Isn’t this part of the reason that California is in the mess they’re in from a budget standpoint – ballot initiatives that must be funded?
Jay Hulbert says
I grew up and spent most of my life in West coast states, all with different versions of the initiative/referendum system, including 15 years in California. You can make a case (depending on which side of an issue you are on) that there have been some pluses where the electorate can break legislative logjams on contentious issues. Limitations on property taxes and funding stem cell research in California come to mind.
But the downsides are huge.
First of all the system allows, no, encourages legislators to pass the buck on all hot issues to voters who are heavily influenced by pressure groups that spend lots of money on advertising pro or con. This seems to have particularly bad effects on issues with a bit fiscal/financial component. For example, at the height of California’s financial crisis voters approved spending 9.95 billion on a high speed rail project. That is enough to start work, but no where near enough to finish a project which despite it’s sex appeal has dubious economic value. The first leg is from Merced to Bakersfield, not exactly a corridor requiring high speed rail. Even if you think high speed rail is a good and noble endeavor, any reasonable analysis would conclude that such huge amounts of money in California should probably go to water infrastructure and earthquake preparedness.
Second, the process allows the public to pass highly emotional social issue legislation without the moderation and more careful drafting of legislative process. Prop 8 in California is probably a good example of this, a poorly thought out, poorly worded law that outlawed gay and lesbian marriage. In fact it was so poorly thought through that it was easily overturned in the courts, leading to Hollingsworth v. Perry and contributing to the US Supreme court striking down all state bans on gay and lesbian marriage, hardly the outcome the supporters envisioned.
The progressive era led to a lot of good things, but initiatives and referendums are not two of them.
Thank you for the insight from someone who lived it.
I can’t recall if it was Long or Bosma, but I recall one of the two not being very supportive of this type of amendment.
Michael Maben says
I agree–I lived in Oregon for over 25 years and the initiative and referendum process was a platform for all kinds of crackpots and ways for the legislature to bypass their responsibilities. I remember voting on one measure that would have allowed alcohol to be served on tour buses–talk about a waste of time and paper! Another time it took a statewide vote to allow margarine to contain artificial colors. Then there was the time we voted on whether or not to allow self-serve gasoline–the opposition ran sexist ads that portrayed women as unable to operate a gas pump, spilling gasoline all over their nice clothes. The measure was voted down and Oregon still does not allow self-serve gas. As much as we dislike the influence of special interests in the legislative process, the initiative and referendum magnifies it
Actually, the most significant difference between Ohio’s and California’s I&R laws is that Ohio mandates the “indirect” process for statutory initiatives. After a successful petition, the proposed measure is presented as a bill to the Legislature, which may pass it as is (avoiding the ballot altogether). If the Legislature rejects the proposal, proponents must undertake a second petition before qualifying for the ballot. California mandates only the “direct” process, in which the Legislature is bypassed completely. In both states, however, all citizen-initiated constitutional amendments use the direct process.
However, Ohio has still been far more spare and restrained in utilizing I&R than California. Since 1912, 93 petition-driven measures have appeared on the statewide ballot, and only 25% were approved by voters. (During this same period, California has seen about 400 such measures, and passed 33% of them.)
Moreover, another neighbor of Indiana, Michigan, has I&R provisions similar to Ohio’s, and exhibits similar usage statistics.
Nearby Missouri probably has the most “California-like” I&R law (direct process only) in the region. But even there, only about 90 petition-driven statewide ballot measures in 100+ years, albeit with a 43% pass rate.
My overall point being, when considering I&R, your options aren’t just “California or nothing.” Indiana is far more similar to Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri than it ever has been to California. And just as those first three states have developed I&R systems that work well for them, there’s no reason to believe Indiana can’t do the same.
Jay Palmer van Santen says
I wonder if it’s time to revisit this issue, perhaps with the Ohio statute in mind…