Despite promises from the Republican supermajority to encourage constituent participation, citizens are not being given the opportunity to voice their opinions on bills, Sen. Shelli Yoder, D-Bloomington, said.
Republicans have a two-thirds supermajority in both the Indiana House of Representatives and Senate, meaning the Republican Party could take legislative action without the presence of Democrats, according to the Associated Press.
Yoder said the majority party committed to maintaining a strong connection with citizens despite the pandemic but felt sufficient efforts were not being made.
“In normal, safer conditions, it is a heavy lift for people who are working, managing child rearing, jobs, family obligations, community obligations to get themselves to the Statehouse to testify,” Yoder said. “Here, amidst a global pandemic, we had people who've said, ‘I care so much about this, I am going to travel five plus hours to get myself there,’ and then we don't even hear them.”
Yoder encouraged constituents to express their concerns regarding Senate Bill 389, which would repeal state wetlands regulations. Yoder said the opposition was not given an equal amount of time to testify and citizens who traveled to testify against SB 389 were sent home without speaking. Written testimonies sent in by constituents were also not distributed, Yoder said.
Ray McCormick, a farmer from Knox County, said he drove 2 ½ hours to testify against SB 389 at the Statehouse. He builds and restores wetlands and has been a national wetlands advocate since 1985. McCormick and two other men he asked to testify were not given an opportunity to speak.
“All three of us didn’t get to speak. And that was that was on purpose,” McCormick said. “It was a bitter disappointment in democracy to have my voice and the voice of my friends that know way more than those on the committee about wetland protection silenced.”
McCormick said his neighbors who supported SB 389 were given time to testify.
According to LegiScan, SB 389 passed with a vote of 29 to 19. Twenty nine Republicans supported the bill, while 10 Democrats and nine Republicans were opposed. The Indiana House of Representatives will next vote on SB 389.
Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, who authored the bill, said in an email that SB 389 follows the guidance of the Federal Clean Water Act and does not impact drinking water quality. She did not comment on the lack of time for citizen testimony.
Yoder said she understood Senate sessions are limited to two hours, but that any unheard testimony should be presented the next week. If there is not enough time for all testimonies, every citizen should have the opportunity to express their concerns directly to their legislator, Yoder said.
“Hoosier voters have definitely been undermined, and their voices usurped by this Senate,” Yoder said.