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(INDIANAPOLIS) — The House and Senate are still at odds over how pandemic health orders

should apply to churches.

The House voted in February to exempt houses of worship from health orders entirely. The Senate

voted instead to follow court rulings in other states, saying churches can’t face tighter restrictions

than essential businesses. Bedford Senator Eric Koch’s (R) latest version splits the difference:

mask orders and capacity limits would apply to church-run operations like food pantries or daycares, but not worship services.

Bloomington Representative Matt Pierce (D) says he’d have readily supported the Senate-passed

“no stricter than” bill, but warns Koch’s amended bill sets up religious services to become

superspreader events.

The bill is one of two limiting anti-pandemic actions to pass the House Rules Committee on

Wednesday, setting up a full House vote next week. The other bill would allow businesses to

appeal health department citations for violating emergency orders to the county commissioners.

That bill also blocks health departments from setting limits stricter than the state unless the

commissioners approve.

The committee approved the commissioners bill on a party-line vote. Anderson Democrat Terri

Austin joined Republicans in supporting the exemption for churches.

A vote is also looming in the House on a bill allowing legislators to call their own special session

to review a governor’s emergency orders. An expected Tuesday vote was delayed to address

some minor wording issues. Governor Holcomb says he believes that bill is

unconstitutional and will veto it if it reaches him.

Holcomb says he also has concerns about putting another hurdle in the way of local health departments’ authority, but stops short of threatening a veto there as well, noting the language is brand new and he hasn’t had a chance to review it. At least four counties, including Marion County, plan to continue local mask mandates after Holcomb allows the state’s mask order and gathering limits to expire April 6.