When politicians introduce legislation addressing a social issue, it is initially politically advantageous. But, if the bill is signed into law, the public then has to brace for its impact, political science officials said.

Bills on social issues “are easy, doesn’t require much work on the part of the politician to convey what they’re trying to do, it raises people’s anger and their fear,” said Aaron Dusso, associate professor and chairman of the political science department at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

“Politically, that’s something that’s happened for decades and decades and decades, where people would file bills, be it at the state level or the federal level, that they know have no chance of ever passing but the point is that when they campaign they can show they did something,” Dusso said.

As the Indiana legislature heads into the 2022 session on Tuesday, bills have been filed that address current social issues, such as an education bill that allows parents to choose if their children should wear a mask in schools and requiring schools to teach that socialism, among other political systems, is “incompatible with an in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded.”

Another bill would ban the requirement of a COVID-19 vaccine passport at state and local government agencies and allows employees to get medical or religious exemptions if their business requires proof of vaccination.

The challenge with proposing social issue bills is some don’t have a clearly defined impact and some immediately have an impact if passed into law, Dusso said.

For example, bills are being proposed across the country to ban the teaching of critical race theory — an academic concept more than 40 years old that racism is not just the product of individual prejudice but also embedded in legal systems and policies — in elementary schools.

At the surface level, an elementary school teacher can say he or she does not teach critical race theory — the academic concept — to students, and continue teaching in his or her style, Dusso said. But, proposing such a bill could have an underlying meaning, he said.

On the other hand, Dusso said, there are bills that are passed, like the ban on abortion in Texas, that have an immediate impact: clinics begin to either close or stop offering abortions and women drive to nearby states, if possible, to get an abortion.

But, the impact of filing such a bill is vast, Dusso said. It either passes and becomes law or it goes nowhere and the politician can just blame the opposite party for not letting the bill be heard or voting it down while campaigning or speaking with constituents, he said.

The further impact, Dusso said, is when voters hear a handful of politicians of the same party addressing an issue a certain way the voter then applies that issue viewpoint to the whole political party.

For example, how Republicans are generally known as anti-abortion and Democrats are generally known as pro-choice, Dusso said.

“The value of that label is built into the issue positions that conveys all that type of information,” Dusso said. “It’s the valuable knowledge that people have to save you the time of having to spend millions of dollars trying to teach people who you are. Just say ‘I’m a Republican’ and boom people have a pretty good idea of the various things you believe.”

Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, said that one danger of mixing social issues with politics “is that we see important and fundamental issues impacting our residents moved to the back burner in favor of culture wars,” like that around critical race theory.

“While our legislature expends energy discussing and debating bills to ban curriculum that’s not even being taught in our schools, that’s time not spent focusing on issues actually affecting the daily lives of students and schools,” Melton said.

Instead, given the state’s billions of dollars in surplus, the legislature should focus on expanding child care and prekindergarten options, increasing teacher pay and funding schools, Melton said.

“Indiana public schools have been underfunded for a long time and our teachers have the slowest salary growth in the nation. We should be investing our time into discussions around getting our educator’s salaries up to par with the rest of the nation instead of debating ghosts within our school curriculum,” Melton said.

But, given the Republican supermajority, Melton said any such bill can pass, so it is important for residents to pay attention to bills filed and “speak up and speak out” against bad policies.

“While I’m envisioning a litany of culture wars this session, I won’t have that distract me and my caucus from pushing good policies and advocating for Hoosiers. We will continue working to pass common-sense bills that would actually improve lives and empower Indiana residents,” Melton said.

Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, said that legislators do look to what is happening around the state to draft bills, but the true impact is when bills pass with support from both parties.

For example, when the general assembly passed a police reform bill in the 2021 session with everyone voting in favor of the bill, Olthoff said.

“If there’s something that the legislature can do ... we have to see if we can fix it,” Olthoff said. “Most of the legislation comes from the people.”

But, politics come into play when an issue doesn’t get bipartisan support but passes, Olthoff said. For example, bills that relate to COVID-19 vaccine exemptions, she said.

“Sometimes people vote no on a bill because of a tiny part of the bill they don’t like,” Olthoff said.

Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, said when reading news articles, watching the news or talking to others it can lead to a piece of legislation.

“That’s the right of the member of the legislature,” Aylesworth said. “If we think something should be a law, we write it up and see if it goes to committee and the floor.”
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