STATE HOUSE–Debate about whether a bill that allows a mostly white township in St. Joseph County to leave the South Bend Community School District is discriminatory, spilled over into the hallway at Government Center, Thursday.
News 8’s David Williams witnessed the incident and reported that Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis) was part of a small group of representatives who left the floor and went into the hallway when hissing and cat calls could be heard during Rep. Greg Porter’s floor speech about his experience as a Black man.
“Rep. Eberhart (Sean Eberhart, a Republican from Shelbyville) got upset. He thought I was talking directly to him. I was not. Then he called me a bitch,” said Summers. She said she was upset that it was tough for a Black representative to talk about the Black experience on the House floor.
Eberhart denied using derogatory language or behaving aggressively.
“That was extreme and disappointing and a reflection of where we are as a country,” said Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend). She said it’s also part of a problem with Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly.
“It also reflects ten years of being in a super majority. That people don’t understand that some members of that caucus don’t have a voice. I just found it interesting that right before that happened we were discussing a bill on civics education.”
Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indi8anapolis), chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, said she believes the behavior on the floor was unporfessional.
“My reaction is just total unprofessionalism on the Republican side. We all are going to disagree about matters. We sit over on the Democrat side and listen to them day in and day out talk about issues that affect our constituents. But, you don’t see us being unprofessional. You don’t see us sighing, saying things, booing people. So, something has to be done from leadership to make sure things don’t progress. Unfortunately, it wasn’t and so things did progress,” she told News 8.
House Speaker Todd Houston called for civility.
“We need to let people offer, be passionate, be responsible, in their debate. We also have to make sure we don’t impugn motives, that we are speaking on the bill and what the bill says, and not what we might think the author or the policy underlying meaning is.”
Shackleford has asked for a joint meeting between House leadership and the Black Caucus.