Amidst a raging pandemic, the Indiana General Assembly will attempt to conduct its 2021 legislative session with a start date of Jan. 4.
They’ll bring together 150 legislators without a mask-mandate for members. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Fishers, has currently tested positive for COVID-19. The senators and representatives will be joined by staffers and lobbyists and interested members of the public.
To mitigate the danger, the House will meet in the adjoining state Government Center South. Committee meetings will involve two, if not three, rooms – one for the committee, one for people who want to testify before the committee, and maybe a third for those who want to observe.
The only items that must be addressed by the General Assembly are the passage of a two-year budget, which may be painful as state and local governments see revenue streams reduced by the economic impact of the coronavirus and redrawing of congressional and legislative districts.
What else may occur will depend upon the will of Republican leadership since the party holds a super-majority in both the House and Senate and whether the virus rears its ugly head amongst the assemblage.
All four caucuses have talked about passing legislation to address the social justice issues raised after the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minnesota.
The Hoosier State Press Association has shared some suggestions on how to use transparency to better hold law enforcement agencies accountable in dealing with racism that might exist. The suggestions focus on opening up to greater public scrutiny the disciplinary process and records of police agencies. HSPA also has suggested making public access to police body camera video more obtainable.
Until bills are released, HSPA will not know whether any of its suggestions will be pursued.
During 2020, HSPA reached out to the caucus leaders to commit to working with them on modernizing the public notice policy of the state. HSPA will present a proposal for them to consider mid-2021. Executive Director and General Counsel Steve Key said the reception to HSPA’s commitment was positive with an understanding that a bill should be introduced in the 2022 session.
Key wouldn’t be surprised though to see bills filed during the 2021 session that would eliminate or reduce the publication requirements for public notices. The opponents of public notice may use the COVID-19 induced budget constraints as an argument to move public notices to government websites to save taxpayer dollars.
HSPA hopes its proactive commitment will stave off these efforts until the entire system can be addressed in 2022.
Another concern, Key has for the 2021 session is what may happen during the end of the session. If legislators are encouraged to limit the number of bills filed and if committee chairs reduce the number of bills to be heard, there may be attempts to add language to the few bills moving at the end.
During this conference committee period, there’s little opportunity for outside input into the behind-the-scene negotiations between legislators.