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Referendum madness

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If you are following the right-to-work debate in the Indiana General Assembly, you probably have whiplash from your head spinning back and forth trying to figure out where things are going.

You are not alone.Events are changing so frequently that by the time this post is written we could be staring down an entirely different set of political circumstances.One element that seems to be sorting itself out, however, is whether a voter referendum could ease the right-to-work gridlock.

On Friday, both Indiana House and Senate Democrats unveiled amendments for a referendum on RTW.The measure basically said that if RTW passed the General Assembly, which it likely will, then it would go into effect on Monday, November 5.However, voters would get the chance to reject it on the November 6 election and if they did, it would be repealed on November 7.Democrats have argued that on a matter this big, the public should have input.In addition, they argue the public doesn't know much about the issue so it needs time to make an informed decision.Note, the latest AFL-CIO poll showed 35 percent of the public supports RTW, 36 percent oppose or somewhat oppose RTW, and 30 percent had no opinion.

Senate Republicans and House Republicans in general oppose the referendum idea, even though the House will allow a vote on the measure.They argue a statewide referendum violates two provisions of the Indiana State Constitution.

Article 1, Section 25

No law shall be passed, the taking effect of which shall be made to depend upon any authority, except as provided in this Constitution.

And Article 4, Section 1.

The Legislative authority of the State shall be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The style of every law shall be: "Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana"; and no law shall be enacted, except by bill.

Since the Indiana General Assembly is the only body that can create statewide law, Republicans say a voter referendum would violate the state Constitution.

Referenda are allowed, however, for amendments to the Constitutions. Voters have seen this provision in action on property tax caps and on the marriage amendment scheduled to hit the ballot this fall.

At the local level, referenda are allowed to get around property tax caps as well some other measures like the elimination of township assessors.Apart from property tax caps, the only statewide referendum I discovered in the modern era that affected policy, per se, was the lottery in 1988.Indiana voters by a 62 percent majority voted to repeal the prohibition in the Indiana Constitution against gaming and the lottery.However the creation of the Lottery didn't happen until it was approved by the Indiana Legislature in 1989.

Ultimately, the RTW decision will be made where it should be, with the Indiana General Assembly.

This is a republic not a direct democracy and people elect their officials to represent them.Critics are correct when they say no one campaigned on this issue, but by that logic and elected official could only introduce bills that they campaign on; which makes no sense.

If you want to see real referendum madness up close and personal check out California where the same people who approve tougher sentencing measures via referendum are the same people who, via referendum, refuse to pay to build new prisons.

And if we can do a referendum for right to work, why not on reproductive rights, education reform, or whether sugar cream pie should be the official pie of the State of Indiana?

Stop the madness before it begins.


Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, the editor of IndyPolitics.Org and a frequent political analyst for RTV 6.

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