Indiana lawmakers face coronavirus actions debate, budget struggle

Indiana Legislature’s will face debates about Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s public health orders over the past 10 months and must figure out a new state budget with plenty of questions about how the coronavirus-sparked recession will impact state tax collections as they try to boost school funding again.

Posted: Jan 2, 2021 11:20 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The COVID-19 pandemic will loom large over the Indiana Legislature’s new session that starts Monday as lawmakers face the fallout from the disease that led to more than 7,000 deaths and economic distress across the state since the last session ended in March.

They will face debates about Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s public health orders over the past 10 months and must figure out a new state budget with plenty of questions about how the coronavirus-sparked recession will impact state tax collections as they try to boost school funding again.

The legislative session will differ from any other as the House of Representatives will largely move its meetings from the Statehouse to larger rooms in a state office building for coronavirus precautions, although lawmakers aren’t being required to wear face masks.

Legislative leaders are bracing for possible disruptions if COVID-19 infections spread among lawmakers or staffers.

A look at some of the top issues for the 2021 session:

COVID-19 CONSTERNATION

Some Republican legislators want to roll back the governor’s authority under the state’s emergency powers law, which Holcomb has used to issue the statewide mask mandate and order the closure of businesses deemed nonessential during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic last spring.

Many conservatives across the state argue Holcomb infringed upon individual rights with the more than four dozen coronavirus-related executive orders he’s issued since March. Some lawmakers have suggested steps such as limiting emergency action by the governor to 30 days without legislative support.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston praises Holcomb’s actions, while saying he expects changes so that the Legislature would have greater sway in future long-term situations.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodrick Bray says the COVID-19 pandemic calls for a review of the governor’s authority.

“Those powers were drafted contemplating a tornado, a fire, earthquake, things of that type that are short-term issues,” Bray said.

Holcomb, fresh off a landslide reelection victory, said he’s willing to discuss changes but that a governor needs the authority to act quickly in health emergencies.

“The virus doesn’t take 30 days to discuss what a health emergency is,” Holcomb said. “I don’t get to go to COVID-19 and say, ‘Hey, can you call a timeout for a second? We gotta have a big discussion about this and I don’t know how long the discussion will be.’”

Holcomb and legislative leaders are also lined up in support of shielding businesses from employee or customer lawsuits over coronavirus exposure.

Business groups argue the liability protection will encourage economic recovery but that lawsuits would still be allowed in cases of “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence.”

Opponents, including labor and civil rights groups, have opposed Congress and states from approving such shields, which they say strips essential workers of potential legal recourse as they take risks during the pandemic.

CASH CONCERNS

Legislative budget-writers are anticipating little additional money will be available as they work on a new two-year spending plan, even though state tax collections have largely stabilized from the plunges seen early in the coronavirus-caused recession.

Holcomb has said he wants to boost school spending and perhaps adopt some of the proposals toward boosting Indiana’s lagging teacher pay issued by a commission he appointed nearly two years ago — although he hasn’t endorsed specific suggestions.

Much of the state budget debate, however, could depend on how much COVID-19 assistance for states is ultimately approved by Congress.

A proposal to increase the state’s cigarette tax for the first time since 2007 could get debated again after not advancing in recent years.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is backing it as a way to improve public health by decreasing smoking.

Holcomb said recently he was undecided on whether to support an increase.

CONTENTIOUS REDISTRICTING

The Republican-dominated Legislature will use data from the 2020 census for redrawing congressional and legislative district maps to reflect population shifts.

This once-a-decade work affects the political futures of all 50 senators and 100 House members. Republicans will have total control of the process, as they did during the last redistricting in 2011.

Critics maintain that helped Indiana Republicans gain outsized power in the Legislature — where they now hold a 39-11 Senate majority and a 71-29 House command.

Republicans have also locked in a 7-2 majority of Indiana’s congressional seats since the 2012 election.

DEBATE RENEWALS

Holcomb has renewed his call for a law requiring more businesses to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant women.

Legislative Republicans rebuffed that proposal during the 2020 session after complaints from business groups about companies possibly being exposed to lawsuits.

Republican lawmakers are also preparing proposals that they say are aimed at making sure utility companies don’t move from coal to renewable energy sources so quickly that the state’s electrical grid becomes unreliable.

Environmental and consumer groups, however, worry that legislation could stall the growth of wind and solar power while propping up the coal industry.

The move comes after Republicans pushed through a bill during the 2020 session making it more difficult for electric utilities to close coal-fired power plants.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
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Hi: 56° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 55°
Angola
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Huntington
Cloudy
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Hi: 55° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 55°
Decatur
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Hi: 56° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 55°
Van Wert
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Rain chances continue for at least the first half of Thursday before gradually tapering off.
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