Indiana lawmakers meeting amid pandemic, no face mask rule in place

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Aerial view of Indiana Statehouse

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as they meet in the statehouse. However, some say they aren’t enough.

Indiana Lawmakers will not be required to wear masks when they meet at the Statehouse for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic first made its way across the country. This comes as the joint House-Senate committee voted down a proposal for rules enforcing a face mask policy.

Democratic State Representative Ed Delaney fears organization day will be a super spreader event without a mask mandate. 

 “If this turns out badly on Tuesday, it will harm the reputation of our legislature for the next ten years, ok? I don’t want that,” State Rep. Delaney said.

The Associated Press reports both the House and Senate plan to meet Tuesday inside their Statehouse chambers. During those meetings, legislators to be sworn into office and they will formally elect leaders.

State Rep. Matt Lehman says enforcement is difficult throughout the statehouse. However, the Speaker of the House could take action. 

“He can make this part of that dress code when they are on the house floor,” State Rep. Lehman said.

If it’s officially part of that code, the speaker could then ask a lawmaker to comply and ask them to leave if they refuse. We’re told that is still being discussed. 

 “We need to get this conversation going and we need to get it going now,” State Rep. Delaney said.

The committee found the House of Representatives Chamber was too small to safely socially distance all 100 members so during session they may move to the government center.

 In the Senate Chamber, they’ve expanded the desks up in the balcony and they’ve also provided plastic shields for the speakers.

 “They are working on a plan on the entrance and exiting so that it is safe for people to come in and out,” State Rep. Lehman said.

Lawmakers are also still trying to provide both in person and virtual options for the public, journalists and lobbyists. Kerwin Olson, the executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition says this should be their number one priority. 

 “It needs to be transparent, the public needs to be able to participate in that process,” Olson said.

 Lawmakers don’t have an exact cost for new technology they’ll need to buy in order to provide a virtual option for the public. They hoping to use federal CARES Act dollars to help.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return in early January to begin their 2021 session. The Associated Press reports the House plans to then start holding its floor sessions and committee meetings in the conference rooms and auditorium of a state office building that are larger than those available in the Statehouse, which first opened in 1888. The Senate plans to continue meeting inside the Statehouse.

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