House and Senate leaders of the Indiana General Assembly gathered in Indianapolis Wednesday during the 30th annual Dentons Legislative Conference to discuss their priorities for the 2022 legislative session, ranging from COVID-vaccine mandates and marijuana use to critical race theory education and tax cuts.
The panel consisted of Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; Senate Democratic leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; House Republican caucus chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon; and House Democratic leader Philip GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne.
To kick things off, the leaders were presented with a “softball” question regarding House Bill 1001, a bill advancing through the IGA this upcoming session that seeks to find a way to end the state health emergency and has language regarding employer vaccine mandates.
When asked if there is room moving forward for negotiations about changes requested to HB 1001, Bray began by stating that there’s room for discussion and that it’s already happening.
“We have been having lots of communications with the governor about trying to get this plane landed and we are getting pretty close,” Bray said. “The other piece though, the vaccine mandate, is quite a bit more complex.”
Bray said he’s not sure where that plane will land, but the legislature is trying to find a way to balance between people who have strongly held beliefs regarding employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates and employer rights.
“We’ll find the sweet spot,” Steuerwald said.
GiaQuinta said he’s glad that the controversial bill will be going through the regular process along with other legislation. Taylor said this issue is a “complete paradigm shift” for him as a democratic super minority.
“I never thought we would be the ones sitting up here being pro-business,” he said. “It’s like the Twilight Zone.”
Shifting to legislative priorities for the upcoming session, Taylor said that his caucus will focus on issues that hit the kitchen table for everyday working Hoosiers, including take home pay, child tax credits, and medical cannabis.
GiaQuinta said that the main focus of issues to be addressed this session would be quality of life issues for Hoosiers, including addressing the cost of health care and early childhood education expenses.
Two areas of interests for the Senate Republicans, Bray said, would be putting the state in a position to end Gov. Eric Holcomb’s emergency order, employer vaccine mandates, transparency in education curriculum for Hoosier students and economic development. Finally, Steuerwald said an issue up for discussion in the House would be tax cuts.
Discussing education policy and what to expect regarding critical race theory in public education, legislators Bray and Taylor both agreed that critical race theory should not be taught in Hoosier K-12 schools.
“Whoever tries to teach this to a kid from kindergarten all the way through under grad has no concept of learning,” Taylor said.
“It’s a really difficult concept to get your hands around and even more difficult to craft policy about,” Bray said in following Taylor. “Although, there is certainly a lot of passion out there in districts across the state of Indiana to do something about whether or not schools are teaching that and that they shouldn’t teach that.”
The emphasis for the House, Steuerwald said, will be to focus on transparency in schools and empowering parents to be a part of the process of understanding what is or is not being taught to their children.
Moving to medical marijuana, Bray said he would still be slow to support its legalization in Indiana. He said he recognizes that there are more than 30 states that have legalized cannabis in some shape or form, including the states surrounding Indiana, which has a direct impact on Hoosiers.
“We will need to think hard about what we do as a state,” he said.
Taylor said that every chance he has to put medical marijuana into an amendment in the Senate, he will hold a roll call vote.
“You can’t run and hide anymore. It’s time to do it,” Taylor said.
In closing, Taylor addressed his fellow panelists and said it’s time focus on the positive outcomes of the things they do together as legislators.
“I really do believe there are things that we disagree about, but at some level we are going to have to start recognizing that good ideas don’t just come from one side of the aisle,” he said. “And I think we have been doing that in the Senate.”