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(INDIANAPOLIS) — The General Assembly has begun its 2021 session with a debate over masks.

Legislators adjourned the 2020 session in March, just days before Indiana announced the first of

what now are nearly 5,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19. House and Senate leaders

agree the pandemic will shape both the agenda and how the session is conducted.

Those issues were immediately apparent, with both chambers placing some members in the

spectators’ galleries to increase social distancing, and House Republicans voting down Democrats’

attempt to pass a mask requirement, with fines or censures possible for violators. House Speaker

Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says Democrats filed the proposal on just 30 minutes’ notice, and calls it a

poorly drafted proposal that would have created problems for many legislators.

Representative Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) says the vote against a requirement starts the session

on a sour note. He says legislators won’t be able to fulfill their responsibilities if an outbreak prevents

them from meeting. Legislators approved a rules change allowing a recess of more than three days if

too many members or staffers are incapacitated by illness or quarantine.

Even without a mask requirement, all but two legislators wore them on the session’s first day.

Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) praised fellow senators for observing proper

precautions — he says it’s a small demonstration that legislators understand what their constituents

have been going through.

The two exceptions, Representatives Curt Nisly (R-Milford) and John Jacob (R-Indianapolis),

introduced a resolution to terminate Indiana’s public health emergency. The resolution declares

Hoosiers know how to protect themselves and the state of emergency is unnecessary. It wasn’t

called for a vote.

Curt Nisly and John Jacob were the only legislators who didn’t wear masks for the legislature’s

ceremonial opening day. Their resolution argues state of emergency should be lifted. There won’t be

any action on it till at least January. Huston says it’ll go through the same process as any other

resolution when legislators return in January, with a House committee deciding whether to grant a


But Huston says he’s been talking with Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) about

possible changes to the emergency powers law itself, and says they’re working with Governor

Holcomb on possible legislation to give the General Assembly more input.

Huston says legislators will address the pandemic in other ways. He and Bray warn the new two-

year state budget will be tight due to the economic downturn sparked by the pandemic.Huston says

House Republicans are working on bills to address public health generally — he says the pandemic

has exposed the risks created by Hoosiers’ poor rankings on health measures from smoking to


And Huston pledges legislators will ensure schools receive full funding, even if the pandemic forces

them to hold classes online. The letter of existing law would force funding cuts for schools which

don’t hold at least half their classes in person.

The annual Organization Day session came as Indiana set new single-day records for coronavirus

hospitalizations and deaths, and adjourned hours before Holcomb’s office announced the governor

and First Lady are quarantining after several members of their security detail tested positive.