This time last year, some legislators joined the House chamber virtually, and others were seated at a distance with masks on. In some cases last January session meetings were canceled or in other locations around the Statehouse with Gov. Eric Holcomb vowing to “err on the side of caution” as positive cases arose.
Erin Murphy, Holcomb’s press secretary, confirmed there are no protocols put in place at the Statehouse at this time.
Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford, tried to bring up a resolution to end the emergency during the meeting Tuesday. House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, replied by telling him the resolution was redirected to the Rules Committee.
Some Republican legislators continue to challenge the state of emergency set by Holcomb at the start of the pandemic and continuously renewed. The latest was set at the start of November and ends on Dec. 1.
Each year on Organization Day, legislators meet and discuss future focuses for the following session, beginning this year on Jan. 4.
For this year’s meeting, legislators had the option to wear masks, but nothing was enforced. Republican legislators have shared mixed opinions toward masks and vaccination, with most ultimately saying that it should be up to an individual’s discretion.
In his speech before the House, Huston discussed the availability of the vaccine and how that has enabled the loosening of restrictions at the Statehouse.
“I think that we feel like we’re reaching that point where we’ve had vaccinations available, we now have boosters available. We’ve got, thank goodness, much better therapies available,” Huston said. “At some point, we move from a government response to an individual responsibility.”
Tuesday Holcomb released a statement saying that he asked his team what could be done to cancel the state of emergency in the future. He announced three changes he wants to implement before ending the state of emergency: • Enhanced federal funds for Medicaid expenditures
• Creation of enhanced benefits for those receiving federal food assistance • The ability to efficiently vaccinate 5- to 7-year-olds
During the meeting Tuesday, Huston indicated he found these changes reasonable and mentioned the possibility of lawmakers meeting earlier than the start of the 2022 session to enact legislation on these issues. “I think a lot of us feel like we need to move forward,” Huston said.
During September and October, hospitalizations for COVID-19 consistently declined, though in November, these numbers have started to increase.
Despite the talk of ending the state of emergency, COVID-19 numbers have recently risen. According to the Indiana State Health Department’s dashboard, positive cases have more than tripled since Oct. 24, when there were 911 cases. There were 3,478 cases reported Tuesday. Indiana deaths from COVID from March 2020 when record-keeping began to current are at 16,618. Dr. Richard Feldman, a former state health commissioner under Gov. Frank O’Bannon, said that there are still COVID-19 risks in Indiana, with four in 10 Hoosier adults not vaccinated.