Lawmakers need to do more listening in 2023

December 23, 2022 7:00 am

My Christmas wish is for lawmakers to listen more to Hoosier residents. (Getty Images)

My Christmas wish is pretty simple: I would like lawmakers to listen to what Hoosiers want. ALL Hoosiers, not just the loudest slice of their Republican constituents.

Poll after poll and survey after survey shows what Indiana residents are worried about, and what they aren’t.

Bellwether Research’s latest poll in early December surveyed 1,100 Hoosiers representing both the demographic and geographic layout of Indiana. It asked about their top priorities.

Wishes one and two were lowering health care costs and affordable housing, at 31% and 21% respectively.

Lawmakers have talked big for a few years on health care costs. But it’s time to take action beyond transparency in pricing. That approach just isn’t working.

A state housing task force worked hard and came up with more than a dozen recommendations for the session. I am optimistic some improvement will be found there.

Next up was increasing K-12 education funding at 17%. Nothing after is in double digits.

Back away

You know what Hoosiers didn’t say they wanted in that poll? More action on abortion. Just 3% believed restricting access to mailed abortion pills is a top priority.

That shouldn’t be a surprise since the GOP’s own internal polling shows the majority of Hoosiers support abortion rights. But it was ignored during the special session in which Republicans passed a near-total abortion ban.

That poll was followed up by Ball State’s annual Hoosier Survey, which found 56% of Hoosiers believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

That poll also found that 56% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for personal use and 29% for medicinal purposes. Only 15% say it should not be legal.

Let’s be real: Indiana wouldn’t be taking some sort of leap, since 39 states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use and 21 states for personal use.

And only 6% of Hoosiers say ‘Oversight of K-12 curriculum’ is a top priority. Yet some legislators are preparing bills to combat critical race theory. And House Education Chairman Robert Behning said recently that a “don’t say gay” bill about sexual orientation will be offered.

Ignoring constituents

Most lawmakers send out constituent surveys on hot topics that they know will be coming up. They are clearly less scientific than the polls I have mentioned but even when legislators directly hear from their most engaged constituents they ignore the results. 

Remember gun licensing from earlier this year? Not a single survey — that journalists could find — supported abandoning the carry permit. In fact they almost all said to keep the system as-is. But legislators tossed the licensing out with the bathwater — against advice of the Indiana State Police superintendent and the majority of law enforcement groups.

Growing up I was always told, “be careful what you ask for.” It seems lately the phrase for Hoosiers should shift to, “be careful what you DON’T ask for,” because you are increasingly more likely to get it.


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.