INDIANAPOLIS | Hoosier lawmakers return to the Statehouse on Tuesday for Organization Day, a one-day mostly ceremonial event ahead of the Jan. 7 start to daily meetings of the 2014 legislative session.
Certain to be on nearly everyone's mind when the 100 representatives and 50 senators get together for the first time since April is the proposal to add the state's existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions to the Indiana Constitution.
State lawmakers initially approved the marriage amendment in 2011. If they do so again next year, it will go before Hoosier voters for ratification or rejection on the Nov. 4, 2014, general election ballot.
Freedom Indiana, a coalition of large employers, universities and other groups led by Portage native Megan Robertson, has spent the summer and fall drumming up opposition to the amendment.
Lawmakers have three options: reverse their earlier support for the amendment and either don't vote on it or vote it down, eliminating the need for a public vote; change the proposal, restarting the lengthy amendment process and delaying a potential citizen vote until at least 2016; or approve it again and let the voters decide.
If the Republican-controlled Legislature follows the state GOP platform, the third option -- letting Hoosiers decide -- is the most likely outcome. It may also be the safest choice for lawmakers, especially Republicans, up for re-election next year.
That's because the amendment is championed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence; House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, each of whom could rustle up primary election challengers for GOP lawmakers that dare to cross party leadership.
At the same time, putting the amendment on the ballot has its own risks. Many polls suggest the majority of Indiana residents now oppose the proposed amendment. Hoosiers who might not otherwise participate in midterm elections could flood polling places to vote it down, and potentially toss out the lawmakers who supported it.
Bosma and Long are expected to announce Monday how they plan to approach the amendment issue, following months of silence on the topic.
Besides the marriage amendment, lawmakers also have many unfinished and in-progress items on their plates.
They include the final adoption of a new criminal code, reconsidering state educational standards, implementing the Affordable Care Act, addressing a persistent decline in state revenue and considering proposals to expand transportation options, including extending the South Shore Line in Lake and Porter counties.
None of those items will be resolved Tuesday. But the tone set by House and Senate leaders on Organization Day will go a long way toward determining their ultimate outcomes during this year's "short" session that's required by law to end no later than March 14.