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HJR-3 Advances Through The Indiana House

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This morning the Indiana House of Representatives adopted the committee report from yesterday’s Elections and Apportionment Committee meeting, during which House Joint Resolution 3 passed, 9 to 3.

The proposed amendment to the Indiana constitution, which explicitly states that same sex couples do not have the right to get married, may now continue through the legislative process, and is expected to have a second reading before the House on Monday.

District 61 Representative Matt Pierce spoke on the floor today during the adoption, warning that the unprecedented process in which the bill came to the house floor would set a precedent for future speakers of the house to rearrange the legislative process to get the outcome they are looking for, just as House Speaker Brian Bosma reassigned HJR-3 once it fell short in the Judiciary committee.

“I made the argument that what the speaker had done was unprecedented,” Pierce said, “It was like a golfer taking a mulligan when they get their resolution stuck in the sand trap. It created a system where you can just have a do-over until you get the result you want. What the speaker did that was so unique is that he actually had a bill in a judiciary committee, the public testimony was taken, the committee had been educated on the issue, they were at the point where a vote could be taken and they obviously delayed it because they knew it wasn’t going to come out the way they wanted it to. For the speaker to then take the bill away from the judiciary committee and put it into elections, where clearly he had counted his votes to know he’d get a good reaction, is what is unprecedented. I ask for the members in the house to reject the committee report to essentially say we don’t want to set the precedent of having these mulligans going on every time we have a controversial bill. It did not work.”

House Representative and Elections and Apportionment committee member Woody Burton, District 58 is quoted in the Indianapolis Star acknowledging that there is a divide between the younger and older Republican members of the house and their views towards marriage equality, but a sister bill introduced this month may be a way of modifying the original bill to retain the vote of the more tolerant Republicans.

House Bill 1153 explains away a sentence regarding civil unions in the original resolution without actually making changes that would force the process back to square one, because the amendment can only be sent to a referendum if it is passed twice with the exact same language by two different assemblies.

Pierce says the companion bill brought additional challenges, rather than solutions.

“That bill actually catalogued all the potential unintentional consequences of that amendment,” Pierce said, “I think they thought that by listing them, that would be kind of like a lifeboat that a lot of republicans could put themselves in and feel safe enough to go ahead and vote for the amendment as is. What I think what happened instead is that after they heard from some legal experts explaining how it was unprecedented, that backfired and caused some members of the judiciary committee to decide they wouldn’t vote for it.”

Similar bills in nearby states have been ruled unconstitutional–most recently a federal judge in Ohio ruled their gay marriage ban as such.

Pierce says that when issues of discrimination and legality come up, proponents of HJR-3 claim that the decision is not theirs to make.

“Oftentimes issues come up asking is this bill constitutional?” Pierce said, “The truth of the matter is that since it’s a joint resolution amending the constitution, it automatically becomes constitutional once it becomes part of the constitution. The real issue is whether or not it’s unconstitutional under the federal constitution. The attitude of most members when that comes up is that they can come up with their own ideas of what’s constitutional or not, and that I will decide what’s the best policy and it’s the job of the court to decide whether the ruling is unconstitutional.”

When HJR-3 is brought to the House Floor, most likely on Monday, any Representative can offer amendments to the bill.  Amendments must have a majority of favorable votes to become adopted but with Republicans holding a super majority it is unlikely that any amendment offered by a democratic representative would pass.

Additionally, if HJR-3 is made too dissimilar to 2011’s HJR-6, it would not qualify for referendum this year. Pierce says the democrats are working on their strategy over the weekend, and have until two hours prior to the House Chamber meeting to offer amendments to be read on the house floor on Monday.

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