(FISHERS, Ind.) — Legislators will talk this summer about whether the General Assembly needs the option of convening and voting remotely.
House Speaker Todd Huston says the pandemic has revealed a need to be ready if there’s another one, or a terrorist attack or other emergency. A study committee will review how to conduct hearings while making sure the public can still watch and testify. And Huston says the committee will discuss how legislators might vote remotely while preserving the integrity of the process.
The U.S. House is currently considering the same question. And the Indiana House has confronted it
before, under very different circumstances. In 2004, then-House Speaker Patrick Bauer (D-South Bend) tried to secure a critical 51st vote for a full-day kindergarten bill by having a legislator who was recovering from heart surgery cast a vote via laptop. House rules expressly prohibited video voting, and the vote was retracted amid Republican protests.
Legislators narrowly missed having this year’s session disrupted by the pandemic. The NBA halted play as the General Assembly was wrapping up work on the session’s final day, and the NCAA followed suit the next day. Governor Holcomb issued his stay-home order 11 days after legislators adjourned.
Huston says along with examining whether and how to authorize remote voting, the study committee will assess whether the change requires passage of a law or constitutional amendment, or can be done through House rules.
This summer’s study committees, including the one on keeping the legislature functioning, will probably hold their meetings virtually, providing a trial run for videoconferenced meetings.
Legislative leaders are also asking state agencies to report by September 18 on rules they’ve suspended during the pandemic, and whether any of them can be repealed permanently. Huston says legislators also want agencies to report on what additional authority they’ve discovered they need for future pandemics,
A handful of Republican legislators have questioned whether Holcomb has the legal authority for the
emergency orders he’s issued in the pandemic. Huston says there’s no doubt that the law gives the
governor that power, and praises Holcomb’s handling of the emergency. But Huston says legislators will review whether that authority is too broad — or too narrow.
Huston says the state’s emergency preparedness will be the key issue of the 2021 session, along with the budget impact of the pandemic. The legislature’s fiscal analysts will issue a revised budget forecast in July, and Huston says legislative leaders will be working with the administration to plan for the suddenly tighter economic picture.