Legislative leaders stress ‘flexibility will be key’ as session starts

Legislative leaders of the GOP-controlled Indiana General Assembly are emphasizing that flexibility will be key to the session as more COVID-19 precautions were made public Monday.

During the first day of the 2021 session, House Speaker Todd Huston announced that the chamber will only convene on Thursdays, for now, to limit how often all 100 members have to be in the same room together.

The House has relocated to the Government Center South Building for the session to accommodate more space between members, but the room is still a tight fit once everyone is inside and spaced six feet apart.

House committees will meet throughout the week, and those schedules will be posted on Thursday afternoons, Huston, R-Fishers, said.

House lawmakers will be able to participate remotely in committee hearings, unless a vote is taking place and then they would need to be at the meeting in-person, Huston said.

“We’re just going to have to do things a little differently and we’ll continue… adjust to changes as we go throughout the session,” Huston said.

The Senate is maintaining its typical floor schedule, though, and will meet on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. In that chamber, 20 lawmakers are sitting in the balcony instead of on the floor in order to socially distance everyone.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the Senate staff is working in two shifts, with half of the staff members rotating days when they are in the building and when they are home, as a way to limit exposure and prevent a higher number of staff members from having to quarantine if someone tests positive.

Bray, R-Martinsville, said a big concern is a large group of staff testing positive or having to quarantine and causing delays.

While both leaders have acknowledged that a break in the session may be necessary at some point because of the number of staff or lawmakers quarantining, neither has set a threshold for when that break would be triggered.

“We’re just going to have to try to play that by ear and continue to move through this session the best we can,” Bray said.

Huston said the current session calendar, which includes deadline dates for when bills must be heard by and voted on, is “subject to change.”

“We have one hard deadline and that is we have to pass a budget by June 30,” Huston said. “Flexibility will be key.”

Masks are not required to be worn by lawmakers, and on Monday, several Republican representatives were seen in the chamber without a face covering. Lawmakers are also not required to be regularly tested for COVID-19.

Lawmakers and staff are required to notify leadership if they test positive for COVID-19, and contact tracing will be done to notify anyone who was in close contact with that individual, Huston said.

But legislative leaders will not publicly announce if and when there are confirmed cases.

Individuals who were in close contact with someone who has tested positive will be advised to quarantine. If a lawmaker tests positive or is quarantining because of a close contact, he or she cannot vote in committees or on the floor.

Huston said he knows the arrangements are not perfect, but he feels “really good about our plan.”

“We’re going to try to be thoughtful and adaptable,” Huston said.

Huston also said the annual State of the Judiciary speech — when both chambers convene together — will not occur this year, beyond possible written testimony being submitted by Chief Justice Loretta Rush. And while details for the State of the State address by Gov. Eric Holcomb have not yet been finalized, Huston said it will be Jan. 19.

“It might just look a little different this year,” Huston said.

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