Indiana Legislature ends on high note after struggles

Republican lawmakers set up a constitutional challenge to Indiana GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb over his office’s emergency powers a week before wrapping up this year’s regular legislative session.

Posted: Apr 23, 2021 4:40 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican lawmakers set up a constitutional challenge to Indiana GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb over his office’s emergency powers a week before wrapping up this year’s regular legislative session.

Days later, the governor and legislative leaders stood together announcing a budget deal that won nearly unanimous support in the session’s final votes Thursday.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly’s 2021 session opened in early January amid wariness about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on state finances and with many conservative lawmakers itching to attack what they regarded as Holcomb’s overreach with COVID-19 executive orders that restricted businesses and mandated face masks.

But a big jump in state tax collections and a $3 billion infusion of federal COVID-19 relief money allowed Republican budget writers to give the sizeable increase to school funding long sought by Democrats — and legislative leaders largely avoided the divisive “culture war” debates that have been pushed by Republicans in other states this year.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said the Legislature stayed focused on key issues such as protecting businesses from lawsuits over possible coronavirus exposures and helping the state’s economy rebound from the pandemic that state health officials say has killed more than 13,000 people.

“You just have to prioritize what’s best and that means spending time on the budget, spending time on the way to provide economic opportunity for Hoosiers across the state and provide some competitive advantages for the state of Indiana,” Bray said.

Legislative leaders praised the bipartisan cooperation involving members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus on a bill aimed at increasing police accountability that was signed by Holcomb on April 1.

That measure grew from a national reckoning over racism and policing following last year’s death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The bill includes provisions for mandatory de-escalation training, bans chokeholds in certain circumstances and a procedure for a state police board to decertify officers who commit misconduct.

But tempers later flared when some Republican House members shouted down and booed Black lawmakers speaking against a bill allowing a rural, mostly white township in St. Joseph County to leave the South Bend Community Schools in a move they called discriminatory and racist. The bill narrowly cleared the House but was never taken up by the Senate.

Republican legislators pushed through a bill giving lawmakers more authority to intervene during emergencies declared by the governor — then voted to override Holcomb’s veto after he deemed it not allowed under the state constitution. It could be up to the courts to decide whether the General Assembly can call itself into an emergency session when it isn’t meeting during its annual legislative session.

More aggressive steps — including resolutions to cancel the COVID-19 public health emergency first declared in March 2020 by Holcomb — were largely kept bottled up by Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston, who have repeatedly praised Holcomb for his actions during the pandemic.

The state’s good financial expectations cleared away reservations among some Republicans about a big expansion of the state’s private school voucher program opposed by Democrats and many education and teacher groups.

Indiana lawmakers weren’t as aggressive as other Republican-led legislatures on issues such as access to abortion, gun rights and voting restrictions fueled by former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud in 2020.

One bill approved by Indiana legislators would require doctors to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions about a disputed “abortion reversal” treatment, but attempts for a complete abortion ban were blocked. House members passed a bill to repeal Indiana’s requirement for a permit to carry a handgun in public only to see it stall in the Senate, which consented to dropping the $75 state fee for lifetime permits.

A proposal aimed at requiring voters to submit identification numbers with mail-in ballot applications failed after facing corporate criticism.

Despite the commanding majorities Republicans have in the Legislature, Huston said they had disagreements.

“There’s a time and place for all issues,” Huston said. “Some people believe we should be acting sooner, some people believe we should be acting not at all.”

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor said he believed Republican leaders didn’t want Indiana to experience anything like the corporate pushback over Georgia’s sweeping new voting law.

“I think there was just a lot of consternation, fear,” Taylor said. “They see what happened in Georgia. Indiana was set up to produce the same kind of results if they had gone that far. I think that they took the hint from the rest of the country and decided, ‘Do we really want to take this kind of leap right now?’”

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1366179

Reported Deaths: 24795
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook54690810144
DuPage907991285
Will75762993
Lake67398990
Kane58533778
Winnebago33359477
Madison30572520
McHenry28675288
St. Clair27899514
Peoria23185317
Champaign20699145
Sangamon18823234
McLean18225181
Tazewell16983291
Rock Island15029318
Kankakee14223210
Kendall1309294
LaSalle12585244
Macon10778200
DeKalb9901119
Vermilion9686132
Adams8474123
Williamson7442130
Whiteside7165172
Boone671774
Ogle612081
Grundy589976
Clinton576390
Coles568996
Knox5569150
Jackson503164
Henry500767
Livingston483185
Stephenson476983
Woodford476177
Effingham472972
Macoupin471583
Marion4471115
Franklin445975
Monroe435793
Jefferson4300120
Lee417453
Randolph413384
Fulton395357
Morgan390282
Logan388959
Montgomery372974
Bureau372782
Christian367973
Fayette317855
Perry317760
Iroquois302766
McDonough286447
Jersey269350
Douglas259035
Saline256454
Lawrence240625
Shelby229937
Union226140
Crawford212126
Bond205524
Cass199525
Jo Daviess181924
Clark180433
Warren180146
Pike179352
Ford179047
Wayne178053
Hancock176131
Carroll175636
Richland175240
Edgar170640
White169826
Washington164425
Moultrie161128
De Witt151725
Mason151645
Piatt150014
Clay148143
Mercer147533
Johnson144515
Greene143933
Massac134640
Wabash134612
Cumberland129019
Menard123712
Jasper115118
Marshall107418
Hamilton83515
Schuyler7607
Brown7106
Pulaski6867
Stark63824
Edwards56912
Henderson52414
Calhoun5182
Putnam4833
Scott4791
Alexander46811
Gallatin4604
Hardin38612
Pope3224
Out of IL111
Unassigned02356

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 735462

Reported Deaths: 13480
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1006161752
Lake54169976
Allen40913680
St. Joseph36301553
Hamilton35807408
Elkhart28815442
Tippecanoe22464219
Vanderburgh22367397
Porter18921310
Johnson18063381
Hendricks17310315
Clark13032192
Madison12754339
Vigo12497249
LaPorte12073215
Monroe11945170
Delaware10750187
Howard9985218
Kosciusko9463117
Hancock8367142
Bartholomew8096156
Warrick7797155
Floyd7686178
Grant7094174
Wayne7069199
Boone6740101
Morgan6606139
Dubois6165117
Marshall6108112
Cass5886105
Dearborn583178
Henry5779105
Noble565084
Jackson503473
Shelby494196
Lawrence4591120
Gibson436892
Harrison436472
DeKalb430485
Clinton428453
Montgomery425789
Whitley397939
Huntington394280
Steuben391057
Miami383768
Knox372890
Jasper372049
Putnam363360
Wabash355280
Adams342655
Ripley340870
Jefferson331881
White316854
Daviess298399
Wells292081
Decatur285992
Fayette281962
Greene280485
Posey272034
LaGrange268870
Scott267454
Clay261147
Washington242132
Randolph242081
Spencer232731
Jennings230949
Starke218954
Fountain213746
Sullivan212242
Owen203056
Jay197630
Fulton196140
Carroll190220
Orange184454
Perry184437
Rush174025
Vermillion170044
Franklin168435
Tipton163345
Parke146716
Pike135334
Blackford135132
Pulaski117345
Newton108834
Brown102641
Crawford101415
Benton99014
Martin89515
Warren82615
Switzerland7948
Union71410
Ohio57111
Unassigned0417