INDIANAPOLIS (Network Indiana): The General Assembly has reconvened for a slimmed-down 2021 session.
The House has abandoned its chamber at the statehouse for a conference room at the Indiana Government Center across the street, to allow for greater social distancing. At least for now, the House will meet only one day a week instead of the usual three, to avoid gathering 100 people in a room any more than necessary.
The Senate previously announced it’ll limit how many bills each member can introduce, a rule the House observed even before the pandemic. The usual resolutions congratulating high school sports teams won’t happen, nor the annual joint session for the State of the Judiciary address by Chief Justice Loretta Rush.
The coronavirus pandemic will dominate not only the logistics of the session but the agenda as well. On the session’s opening day, House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) urged legislators to “think big.” He says the pandemic has exposed gaps in Indiana’s social-service safety net, and the costs of what he calls an “unglamorous and lethal record” on public health, with Indiana’s poor performance on health measures like obesity and smoking magnifying the virus’s impact.
House Republicans have said they’ll roll out a package of public health bills but haven’t given specifics yet.
GiaQuinta says a less gloomy than expected budget forecast gives Indiana the opportunity to put more money into programs for the poorest Hoosiers, and into assistance to keep businesses afloat in the pandemic. He says the pandemic has left more people and businesses than ever struggling to pay their bills.