Last week, Hoosiers got a good preview of what’s to come on COVID-19 when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January — don’t expect them to hold Hoosiers accountable.
Lawmakers declined to even hold themselves accountable while at the Statehouse, so don’t expect them to do anything that would actually add teeth to efforts to slow spread of COVID-19.
The good news, at least, is that almost all of Indiana’s House and Senate members did come to Organization Day wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
There were just two lawmakers — Curt Nisly, R-Milford, and John Jacob, R-Indianapolis — who didn’t mask up in spite of a statewide mask mandate that requires Hoosiers to wear face coverings inside public places.
Indiana Democrats proposed a mask requirement for the upcoming 2021 session, in the Statehouse only, that would have been enforceable among lawmakers with provisions for possible fines or censure for legislators who refuse to comply with it.
“Masks protect you, they protect me, they protect all of the folks you interact with,” said Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, “including the staff, the public and the media.”
When put to a vote in the House, the measure failed, breaking along party lines, 24-68, with the Republican supermajority voting against it.
Indiana Republicans offered no alternative. They voted down the Democrat proposal and then moved on.
Northeast Indiana Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, made a rare appearance on Twitter to respond to a post about the mask requirement being defeated.
“We as legislators lead by example and do not need threat of censorship and fines to be respectful of others. Vote was only a side show,” Abbott tweeted.
Yes, lawmakers do lead by example. But lawmakers also lead by passing legislation aimed at solving issues facing the state.
And if they can’t start by holding themselves accountable, it signals there’s about a 0% chance they will do so for the other 6.7 million Hoosiers.
With a pandemic that is currently infecting thousands, hospitalizing hundreds and killing dozens, the Indiana General Assembly is showing at best it is poised to do little to help and — perhaps more likely — will take action to hamstring future response.
Legislators have already talked about working on efforts to limit the ability of the governor to call and maintain a public health emergency and act by executive order.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has made the hard decisions to act when needed and practiced restraint while doing so.
Despite that, Indiana is in the worst position now that it has been since the start of the pandemic, with the situation continuing to worsen and little sign of it stopping.
If the Indiana General Assembly wants to rein in Holcomb, they’ll need to prove that they’re willing to take the ball and be the bad guy when warranted.
If legislators want to show they deserve to have a voice in the state’s pandemic response, they should take a second crack at a Statehouse mask requirement come January and at least set and abide by the lowest bar possible for themselves.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board.
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