Today was Organization Day – the official first day of session, where the Indiana General Assembly “organizes” for the upcoming legislative session, can veto legislation from the prior session, and starts the ability to conduct business. Somewhat ceremonial in nature, it is usually a pretty low-key day with very little drama. However, Organization Day 2020 in the midst of COVID, was anything but quiet.
As expected, the House formally re-elected State Representative Todd Huston (R-Fishers) as Speaker of the House. As a reminder, Speaker Huston became speaker at the end of the 2020 legislative session when Brian Bosma announced his retirement and gave up his leadership position. Similarly, State Senator Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) was also re-elected as Senate President Pro Tempore.
Speaker Huston outlined what he felt were priorities for the next legislative session, which included liability protection from COVID-related lawsuits for schools, higher-education institutions, businesses, and nonprofits; energy recommendations coming from the Energy Task Force which is wrapping up work later this week; and pledged to work with law enforcement and the black caucus to foster better relationships with the police. Newly-elected Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) outlined some of his priorities for 2021 – including improving relationships between the police and black community, investments in broadband, and school accountability waivers in light of the pandemic. President Pro Tempore Rod Bray committed to a balanced budget that funds schools, liability protection, redistricting, increasing health care costs, and broadband access
Two resolutions were filed today – one from State Representative Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) to change House rules to require a face mask/covering while in the chamber, hall, or room when official House business is being conducted. After much debate, the motion failed along party lines. Another resolution, authored by State Representative Curt Nisly (R-Goshen), which would end the public health emergency as “Hoosiers have been educated and informed on how to properly protect themselves and their families from COVID-19.” This resolution was never called down by the Speaker for discussion or a vote.
The House and Senate also voted to make some changes to procedural rules for the upcoming session, including allowing for electronic distribution and signatures on various filings (to help with minimal contact and efficiency). A rule was also passed that would allow for the legislature to have more than three consecutive days off, in light of the health care pandemic. In addition a rule was passed that would place a ten bill limit for individual Senators. House members already have a ten bill limit during budget sessions.
COVID-19 was really the theme of the one-day session, which was evident by most of the members of the Indiana General Assembly wearing masks, social distancing, and plexiglass divisions. There was even an “old school” verbal roll call vote in the House. But at the end of the day, it was a reminder to all Hoosiers that COVID-19 does not discriminate, as State Representative Robin Shackleford (D- Indianapolis) announced that she had been exposed to COVID-19 from her sister who tested positive today. In addition, Governor Eric Holcomb announced that he and First Lady Janet Holcomb were going into quarantine after a member of his security detail also tested positive today.
As a reminder, the legislative session will start January 4, 2021. And while it is a long session and statutorily must end by April 29th, there is a strong likelihood due to the pandemic that we may end up in special session.