Coronavirus looms as Indiana lawmakers return to Statehouse

Indiana lawmakers won’t be taking quick action to undercut public health orders that Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued over the past nine months of the coronavirus pandemic, top Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday.

Posted: Nov 18, 2020 9:46 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers won’t be taking quick action to undercut public health orders that Gov. Eric Holcomb has issued over the past nine months of the coronavirus pandemic, top Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday.

The Republican governor’s use of executive orders that early on shut down many businesses deemed nonessential and now include the statewide mask mandate have faced complaints from many conservatives across the state and protests that he’s overstepped his authority.

The opposition to the mask mandate was seen Tuesday at the Statehouse as two Republican House members didn’t wear masks during the Legislature’s largely ceremonial Organization Day session and one senator wore a loosely fitting bandanna. Many House and Senate members sat in the balconies of those chambers to provide greater distancing as they met for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic was starting to sweep across the country in March.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said he expected lawmakers to debate changes to the governor’s emergency powers once the full legislative session begins in January, but he did not expect specific changes to Holcomb’s executive orders.

“We don’t work as quickly as a governor does,” Bray said. “There’s 150 of us so it takes us a little more time to craft our policy and to make decisions.”

Indiana has recorded more than 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths, including 84 deaths announced Tuesday by the state health department. Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased nearly 300% in the past two months.

Holcomb has issued 47 coronavirus-related executive orders since March under the state’s emergency law, which was largely drafted in 2003 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some have suggested steps such as limiting any emergency action by the governor to 30 days without legislative support, arguing it was meant for temporary situations such as floods, tornadoes or terrorist actions, even though epidemics are included among the 29 situations specified in the law.

Bray said he expected legislative action will focus on long-term state policy and funding issues.

“I don’t expect that in the first week of our session that we’ll get started making specific statewide policy that is going to interfere with the governor’s executive orders,” he said.

House members voted along 64-28 party lines Tuesday to reject a Democratic-backed proposal to require the wearing of masks wherever legislative business was being conducted.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston repeated the word “vast” eight times to emphasize the nearly all GOP House members wore masks.

The two House members who didn’t wear masks — Republicans Curt Nisly of Milford and John Jacob of Indianapolis — filed a resolution for the Legislature to void Holcomb’s public health emergency order first issued in March. It wasn’t called for debate Tuesday but could be revived later.

Huston didn’t directly criticize Nisly and Jacob for not wearing masks, while he did say he believed Holcomb had done a “tremendous” job with the state’s coronavirus response.

“I think there is a proper role for legislative input,” Huston said. “I think there needs to be a fully, broader discussion about those actions and that is what will happened during the session.”

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis said following Tuesday’s House session that her sister had tested positive for COVID-19 infection. She remained at the Statehouse to take part in a virtual news conference with other Democratic lawmakers, saying she planned to then quarantine and seek a coronavirus test on Wednesday.

Democrats said they were concerned about a lack of firm rules requiring masks or steps such as random testing of members to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak that could force an interruption of the legislative session.

“If we let people freelance and decide that masks just aren’t for them, that’s going to be a problem,” said Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington.

Bray and Huston both said they were reluctant to announce any infections among legislators but that proper contact tracing would be conducted if any lawmakers do contract COVID-19.

“We have to be a little bit sensitive to the idea that, obviously, they are senators who are public figures, but it is also a health issue,” Bray said.

___

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1118335

Reported Deaths: 17712
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1455892240
Lake724831254
Allen67063882
Hamilton51060487
St. Joseph49820649
Elkhart40268546
Vanderburgh34714497
Tippecanoe30808276
Johnson27696467
Hendricks26313385
Porter25657386
Madison21131455
Clark20238279
Vigo19059309
LaPorte17192261
Howard16770314
Delaware16761303
Monroe16628220
Kosciusko14293167
Hancock13113186
Bartholomew12983190
Warrick12210190
Wayne12090269
Floyd12011226
Grant11998245
Morgan10409192
Boone9869124
Noble9316122
Henry9177169
Marshall9152147
Dearborn8970100
Dubois8835140
Shelby8281130
Cass8167128
Lawrence8057185
DeKalb7817109
Jackson770793
Huntington7661115
Gibson7102118
Montgomery7101123
Harrison6954100
Knox6915116
Steuben669089
Whitley659660
Miami6595113
Putnam645085
Clinton627179
Wabash6221111
Jasper613192
Jefferson5856105
Ripley557294
Adams542281
Daviess5076117
Scott491580
Wells4836105
White478469
Greene4701101
Clay464662
Decatur4611110
Fayette452496
Jennings452067
LaGrange427491
Posey410044
Randolph3944107
Washington390956
Fountain375964
Fulton364874
Spencer362247
Starke355574
Owen353577
Sullivan348555
Orange331372
Jay331050
Rush309533
Carroll296239
Franklin292744
Perry290553
Vermillion283658
Tipton251167
Parke250130
Pike248644
Blackford222144
Pulaski210359
Newton182452
Brown177550
Crawford169129
Benton168417
Martin152120
Switzerland147612
Warren135816
Union122616
Ohio92413
Unassigned0595

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