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Democrats renew ballot initiative push as poll shows support for legal marijuana and abortion rights
Democrats are touting a new poll showing sizable majorities of Indiana residents supporting marijuana legalization and abortion rights in their ongoing push for citizen ballot initiatives such as those allowed in other states.
Polling results released this week by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs found 86% support for some form of marijuana legalization and 59% support for allowing abortions in most or all cases.
Those results from the center’s 2023 Hoosier Survey are similar to the previous year when 85% supported marijuana legalization for medical or personal use and 57% supported abortion rights in at least most cases.
Ballot initiative push stymied by Republicans
Republican legislative leaders have refused to take up proposals from Democrats over the past several years for citizen ballot initiatives while pushing through the state’s near-total abortion ban in 2022 and blocking efforts for any marijuana legalization.
Senate and House Democrats have filed legislation this General Assembly session for amending the state constitution to create a process by which petition drives that gather enough voter signatures could place issue questions on the general election ballot.
Such a process in Ohio resulted in voters there approving in November a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access and a law legalizing medical marijuana.
Indiana is among 12 states still with full marijuana bans as Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republican legislative leaders have cited concerns about both its legality at the federal level and the impact on public safety and health.
Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor said the views of Hoosiers on marijuana and abortion were being “consistently ignored” by the Legislature’s Republican supermajority.
“When our laws directly conflict with what Hoosiers want, there's no question that ballot measures are necessary in Indiana,” Taylor said. “It's time for the will and the wishes of we the people, the Hoosiers of the state of Indiana, to finally be realized and finally start to take precedence.”
Poll details on marijuana and abortion questions
The Hoosier Survey poll found that on marijuana legalization:
- 54.2% support for personal use
- 32.2% support for medicinal use
- 9.8% against any legalization
On the abortion question:
- 31.3% support for legal in most cases
- 27.8% support for legal in all cases
- 27.2% answered abortion should be illegal in most cases
- 10.3% responded abortion should be iIllegal in all cases
Republican legislative leaders have opposed adding citizen ballot initiatives based on the argument that General Assembly members are elected every two or four years, giving voters ample opportunity to weigh in on such issues.
No change in Republican stance on marijuana
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said legislators are continuing to discuss matters surrounding marijuana legalization but was clear it wasn’t happening this year.
“No, it’s not going to be the case but we're continuing to look at that,” Bray said last week. “We've got several bills and there will be some conversation.”
Democratic Rep. Sue Errington of Muncie, who sponsored a ballot initiative resolution in the House, said the Ball State poll showed Republicans doing “the exact opposite of what the Hoosier majority wants.”
"The data is clear, Hoosiers want access to abortions and cannabis legalization,” Errington said. “And yet, Republicans continue to go against the will of the majority with their restrictive policies.”
Senators rejected a proposal Monday to remove strict limitations on what legal research Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters. That means House Bill 1338 could face a full Senate vote on Tuesday with provisions that supporters of the access counselor’s office argue would hamstring its ability to answer questions about …
Indiana doctors performed fewer than four abortions a week during the final three months of 2023, continuing the sharp downturn under the state’s near-total abortion ban.
Doctors reported 46 abortions from October through December, according to the state Department of Health’s latest quarterly report on abortions.
The ban that took effect in August allows abortions only in cases of rape or incest before 10 weeks post-fertilization or to protect the life and health of the mother or because of a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also voided the state licenses of all Indiana abortion clinics, allowing abortions only in hospitals or hospital-owned surgery centers.
Of the abortions reported during the fourth quarter of last year, 22 were because of lethal fetal anomalies, 21 were attributed to health risks to the pregnant woman and three were due to rape or incest, according to the state report released last week.
The 46 abortions during the fourth quarter represented a 97% drop from the 1,724 reported during the same three months in 2022 while the abortion ban was blocked by a judge’s order later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Indiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, hailed the decline but joined criticism of the Department of Health for not releasing individual terminated pregnancy reports as it had done before the ban went into effect.
The agency has said it no longer releases those reports under state law that declares medical records confidential because of more detailed information required from doctors.
“The Indiana Department of Health is blocking public access to terminated pregnancy reports,” Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said in a statement Monday. “This manipulation creates a lack of transparency, making it impossible to verify these numbers are accurate — and that Indiana law is being followed related to abortion activity.”
Abortion-rights supporters have argued that the ban wrongly limits access to health care. They’ve also maintained that abortion care would largely be unavailable outside Indianapolis even in situations meeting the limited exceptions, with the procedure no longer available at abortion clinics.
All but two of the 46 abortions during the reporting period were performed at Indianapolis hospitals, with the most at Riley Health Maternity Tower (21) and Eskenazi Hospital (10). The only hospital-performed abortions outside Indianapolis were one each at Dupont Hospital and Parkview Regional Medical Center, both in Fort Wayne.
The Senate has backed off a proposal that would block lawyers who’ve faced recent serious misconduct sanctions from running for state attorney general. A Senate committee had added a provision to an elections-related bill last week as Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita remains under scrutiny from the state’s attorney disciplinary commission after being reprimanded by …
The scope of what Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters would be strictly limited under provisions added to legislation in the closing days of the legislative session.
Amendments that a Senate committee made this week to House Bill 1338 would also reduce the office’s independence by eliminating the four-year term the access counselor has after being appointed by the governor.
The Legislature in 1999 established the access counselor position to review questions from the public, government officials and others about the state’s open meetings and public records laws.
The public access counselor’s office, with two attorneys and one other staff member, issues dozens of advisory opinions each year but has no authority to enforce the access laws or punish violators.
Advocate says amendment ‘guts’ counselor’s authority
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment allowing the access counselor’s advisory opinions to consider only “the public access laws, as plainly written,” and “valid opinions of Indiana courts.”
Freeman, chair of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, expressed frustration with Public Access Counselor Luke Britt’s opinions without giving specifics during the Tuesday meeting when the provision was added.
“The public access counselor, it says that he, in this case, shall liberally construe the code,” Freeman said. “He’s issued some opinions that I vehemently disagree with and I think others in our body and in this building vehemently disagree with.”
The amendment “functionally guts” the access counselor’s ability to consider the context of a situation unless it has been directly addressed by the Legislature or court, said Amelia McClure, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
“The code can never contemplate all of the different circumstances that public access concerns are going to arise,” McClure said. “So the public access counselor has to consider new technologies, what location, the circumstances of the conversation in a way that a civil code will never be able to contemplate.”
Britt was appointed access counselor in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence and reappointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017 and 2021.
Britt, whose current term runs until Oct. 31, 2025, declined to comment to State Affairs on Freeman’s amendments. The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply Thursday to a request for comment.
The restrictions on the access counselor’s office were not raised during the first seven weeks of this year’s legislative session and became public only two days before the Senate committee’s deadline to take action.
Public access counselor’s role at issue
Some conservatives criticized an opinion Britt released last fall in which he concluded the Hamilton East Public Library Board in Fishers violated the open meetings law when two board members met with their attorneys at a coffee shop.
That opinion came amid public debate over a push by conservative members of that board to review all youth-section books and move those with “inappropriate” content to adult sections.
The opening section of Indiana’s public records law states it should be “liberally construed to implement this policy and place the burden of proof for the nondisclosure of a public record on the public agency that would deny access to the record.”
Freeman said during the committee meeting that he favored striking the “liberally construed” phrase from the law, but other senators thought that went too far.
The amendment limiting the access counselor’s authority was added to the bill on a 5-3 vote as Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor joined Freeman and other Republicans Mike Bohacek, Cyndi Carrasco and Eric Koch. Republicans Liz Brown and Sue Glick and Democrat Rodney Pol voted against the amendment.
Glick said the restriction on what the access counselor could consider didn’t make sense.
“You’re paying an attorney for their opinion, and now you’re limiting that,” Glick said.
Change would eliminate term of office
Freeman also advocated for an amendment eliminating the access counselor’s four-year term and making the position one that serves “at the pleasure of the governor.”
“When we have a new governor … I believe the governor should be able to pick the person that they’re choosing to serve,” Freeman said. “As any other appointed office, we serve at the privilege of the governor. So I believe this should be no different.”
Those people appointed to lead state departments can typically be removed at the governor’s discretion. However, hundreds of appointments to state boards and other positions, such as the state Election Division’s co-directors, are made for set terms.
McClure, the Hoosier State Press Association’s director, said eliminating the four-year term would take away some of the office’s independence from political concerns.
“That’s important when it’s an advisory opinion that’s interpreting actions of all kinds of different bodies that have all kinds of different political affiliations,” McClure said.
The full bill, which initially focused only on allowing local government boards to establish meeting decorum rules, could be taken up by the full Senate next week. The additions would still also need approval from the House before this year’s legislative session ends by March 14.