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National issues can pave the way for 'unpopular' bills passing through the legislature, experts say

A blue and pink sign that says "Title IX protects trans girls."
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
In 2022, lawmakers passed a bill to ban transgender girls from playing girls school sports. Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed the measure and said he “found no evidence” to support that there was a problem in K-12 girls sports. Indiana was one of seven states that passed similar legislation that year.

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 national issues can largely affect what lawmakers prioritize during a legislative session.

Downs said many legislators may see issues from other states and want to address it – even before it becomes an issue in Indiana.

“There are plenty of people who, through their newsfeeds, are seeing what amounts to state level or even local level news items happening in other states,” he said. “That increased awareness is something that may cause a legislator to say: ‘hey, wait a minute, that could be an issue here.’”

Downs said national organizations also often have frameworks for state legislation.

“There are organizations around the country on both the left and the right who will write legislation that they believe to be a really good template for any state,” he said.

READ MORE: Indiana's slate of anti-LGBTQ+ bills part of national fight over 2020 Supreme Court decision

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.

Downs said legislators come up with bill ideas, but are not the ones who actually author the in-depth legislation.

“The Office of Bill Drafting then takes it and writes it in the proper form for the state of Indiana,” he said. “They check to make sure that it's going to fit into the code where it's supposed to. They make sure that cross-referencing issues are addressed as best they can, and then they actually send that back to the legislators and say, ‘here's how we think this should be crafted,’ not in an attempt to change their mind, but in an attempt to make it fit within the Indiana code.”

He said this is followed by discussions with lawmakers to ensure the bill addresses the meanings and issues the lawmakers intend for it to look at.

Downs said electronic frameworks of these national issues from organizations can remove some of this “heavy lifting” from this whole process.

“If you have a national organization that's trying to push something, all they have to do is find a legislator in the Statehouse who is sympathetic to their point of view and then provide them electronically with the legislation already drafted,” he said.

Downs adds political partisanship and loyalty to constituents also heavily influence the reasons why legislators vote to pass seemingly “unpopular” bills.

He also said “only 20 to 25 percent of all legislation that’s introduced” is actually passed during the legislative session, which may “give 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.