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Indiana constitution is now viewed as legislative tool

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press
Monday, January 27, 2014 - 10:36 am

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers have become increasingly reliant on “locking” down their preferred policies by placing them in the state constitution.

The power players in the gay marriage fight are well-known by this point. Activists with Freedom Indiana have packed both House hearings on the issue this month, wearing red shirts to signal their opposition to the proposed ban, House Joint Resolution 3. Religious conservatives led by a trio of Statehouse lobbyists with deep ties in Republican circles have quietly and successfully used the levers of power to advance the ban through the General Assembly.

Meanwhile, DePauw University student Mickey Terlep has quietly worked the halls of the Statehouse, delivering research that shows the history of alterations to the state's constitution. He did the research with fellow DePauw student Leif Anderson.

Carrying a chart of alterations to the state constitution since it was written in 1851, Terlep outlined how changes for many years consisted of conforming with federal amendments (such as granting African-Americans and women the right to vote) or altering the structure of government (such as allowing governors to serve two consecutive terms.)

But Terlep says lawmakers increasingly use the state's constitution to write laws instead of following the traditional process of passing bills through the House and Senate on their way to the governor's desk and eventually the state code.

“This transformation raises the question: 'Why have lawmakers sought to use constitutional amendments as a means for enacting specific public policies?'” Terlep told members of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee last week. A few minutes later the committee voted 9-3 along party lines to send the proposal to the House for consideration.

State law already bans gay marriage. Placing that ban in the constitution would protect it from changes by future lawmakers or state courts, but would falter before any U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“I believe (House Joint Resolution 3) is an example, along with other amendments such as the property tax cap … of the older generation attempting to lock in their views and impose them upon my generation,” Terlep said last week.