Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, presides over the Indiana House on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, during the Organization Day meeting of the 2022 General Assembly. Screenshot
Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, presides over the Indiana House on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021, during the Organization Day meeting of the 2022 General Assembly. Screenshot

Hoosier lawmakers are working with Gov. Eric Holcomb to bring a swift end to Indiana's COVID-19 state of emergency that's persisted since the first case of the coronavirus was diagnosed in Indiana on March 6, 2020.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, hinted Tuesday during the ceremonial first meeting of the 2022 General Assembly that legislators may return to the Statehouse prior to the scheduled Jan. 4 start of daily House and Senate sessions to enact new laws continuing essential provisions of the governor's emergency orders in order to allow the remainder to expire.

Huston declined during the brief convening of the House to consider a proposed resolution filed by contrarian state Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, that would have immediately terminated the state's COVID-19 emergency, and ended the governor's emergency powers relating to the pandemic.

House Concurrent Resolution 3
instead was assigned by Huston to the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure, which typically is a burial ground for proposals the speaker has no interest in advancing.

However, a similar House Resolution 2 has been filed by 31 Republicans, including state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, and several GOP committee chairmen, making the issue all but impossible for Huston to ignore.

The speaker told The Times on Monday his intention is to collaborate with the governor to identify any statutory changes that might need to be made to ensure Indiana's COVID-19 response can continue absent an ongoing state of emergency proclamation.

Holcomb said Tuesday if the General Assembly adopts legislation providing for Indiana to continue receiving COVID-19 enhanced federal funds for Medicaid expenses and food assistance for Hoosiers, and extending the ability for the state to efficiently vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds against COVID-19, then Holcomb believes he can "responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire."

The current emergency order is scheduled to terminate Dec. 1. Under certain circumstances, both the House and Senate in a single day can convene, consider and approve legislation, and forward the measure to the governor to be enacted into law.

Neither Holcomb, nor the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature, said anything about how the push to end the COVID-19 state of emergency would be affected if Indiana sees a holiday surge of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, similar to last year.

In any case, Huston said the General Assembly will operate next year "back to normal," and without the COVID-19 prevention measures deployed last year, including social distancing between members, plexiglass dividers in front of speakers, and limited public access to lawmakers and the Statehouse.

Lawmakers, legislative staff and Statehouse visitors also are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Even if they were, however, a state law enacted in April prohibiting government agencies from requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, or vaccine "passports," would bar verification of any kind of Statehouse vaccine mandate.

"You can expect a session that runs much like 2020, and earlier sessions," Huston said.

The return to normalcy started immediately across the rotunda in the Senate where state Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., D-Chesterton, was surrounded by friends and family as he took the oath of office to succeed state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, who resigned Nov. 1.

Pol was sworn-in by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who lived in Munster as a child, and encouraged by Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, to follow in the respected footsteps of his Senate District 4 predecessor as he represents Hoosiers living in northern Porter and northwestern LaPorte counties.

Indeed, Pol has said he plans to continue pursuing several issues important to Tallian, including adjusting for inflation the schedule of benefits for Indiana workers injured on the job, legalizing marijuana, and finding ways to help public schools retain and recruit high quality teachers and secure sufficient funding from the state.

Huston promised school transparency will be a chief focus for House Republicans in the wake of parent protests elsewhere in the country concerning school curriculum and student learning requirements. He said schools should teach children how to think, not what to think.

"Parent voices must be heard and respected, and we will make sure they are," Huston said.

On another controversial issue, abortion, Huston said the General Assembly likely will take a wait-and-see approach while a variety of legal challenges seeking to further restrict or outright prohibit abortion, including several backed by Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita, are pending in various federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We stand ready to act, if needed," Huston said.

Other hot-button issues likely to be debated by Hoosier lawmakers next year include how to reduce health care expenses, potential income or business tax cuts, renewable energy policies, student learning loss recovery, and ways to continue growing Indiana's population.

Huston urged his colleagues to refrain from becoming "conflict entrepreneurs" by pursuing legislation solely aimed at making a partisan statement or needling a political divide, instead of improving the lives of Hoosiers.

By working together, Huston said, "We can assure that Indiana achieves its greatness."

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