Lawmakers return to Statehouse for start of 2021 session

Indiana lawmakers return to the Statehouse on Monday for the start of a legislative session that will be conducted unlike any other before it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted lawmakers to make a handful of adjustments for the 2021 session, such as moving the Indiana House of Representatives to the Government Center South building and installing plexiglass barriers in the Indiana Senate.

Despite a push by House Democrats on Organization Day in November to require lawmakers to wear masks, neither chamber is mandating it, but it is strongly recommended. Two Republican lawmakers did not wear masks when the 150-member General Assembly gathered in November.

Both Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have said they expect to have temporary shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks or individuals having to quarantine between now and the end of April, when the session is scheduled to end.

“I think we have to be honest with ourselves — we’re going to have disruptions,” Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said during an event in December.

Lawmakers have also acknowledged that the legislatively mandated end date to the session — April 29 — may need to be changed, but no action has been taken or formally proposed yet.

State lawmakers have two big tasks on their plate this year — writing the next two-year budget, which must be done by June 30, and redrawing legislative and congressional district lines.

A revenue forecast shared with top budget writers in December showed a better-than-expected outlook, with the state expecting to collect $34.95 billion in tax revenue over the next two years. That’s about $360 million more than the budgeted appropriations for the current two-year budget.

But a significant amount of that new money is expected to be eaten up by increases in Medicaid costs, so it’s uncertain how much money will be available for other spending priorities, such as K-12 education.

In his legislative agenda, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb called for increasing K-12 spending by an unspecified amount and, at a minimum, restoring previous funding levels for higher education institutions. Holcomb asked higher education institutions to take a 7% cut in fiscal year 2021 to account for revenue shortages caused by the pandemic.

Republicans, who have supermajorities in both chambers, have also indicated a desire to increase K-12 funding.

The debate over redistricting is expected to occur late in the session, but the timing will depend on when the state receives the 2020 population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Other key issues that are on the docket to be addressed this year include pandemic-related lawsuit protection for businesses, limiting the powers a governor can have during a public emergency, racial reforms and energy policy.

The House and Senate will both convene at 1:30 p.m.

A list of bills that have been filed, a schedule for the session and notices for when committees will meet can be found at iga.in.gov.

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