Indiana Democrats call for special legislative session
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Legislative Democrats want Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb to bring the General Assembly back in a special session as concerns over racial injustice and rising coronavirus cases have created what they say is an immediate need for legislators to reconvene.
The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and the House and Senate Democratic leaders are requesting a special session in August to consider police reform measures, allow for unrestricted absentee voting and to implement legislative oversight in the distribution of federal COVID-19 relief funds received by Indiana.
There’s been too little transparency and action taken on these issues so far, Democrats said, and a special session of the Republican-dominated Legislature would allow new legislation to take effect before the general election and before federal relief funds expire at the end of the year.
“We feel our state is facing unprecedented events that require immediate attention,” said Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “It’s time for the people’s elected representatives and senators in the Legislature to step forward to provide the answers and actions they’re looking for.”
Holcomb, a Republican, said Tuesday that a special session wasn’t “on my agenda right now.”
“I’ll absolutely look at everything that they’re recommending,” Holcomb said.
Following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, the Black Legislative Caucus released a list of “immediate action items” for the governor and local government leaders to immediately reform the criminal justice system, including putting bans on chokeholds, racial profiling and no-knock warrants. But Democrats said “silence” from the governor on those recommendations, as well as the high-profile assault on a southern Indiana Black man over the July Fourth weekend, has precipitated their push for new legislation.
With coronavirus cases continuing to increase, Lanane said the special session would provide an opportunity for responsive legislation to take effect before a projected worsening of the pandemic this fall.
Lanane and other legislative leaders criticized the governor, secretary of state and the Indiana Election Commission for not extending no-excuse absentee voting as an option for the November election. The lawmakers said one of their paramount measures would allow all Hoosiers to vote by absentee ballot during all elections. The deadline for absentee ballots would also be moved back to 6 p.m. on Election Day.
Additionally, House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta said the lack of legislative involvement surrounding the state’s $2 billion in unspent federal assistance funds — meant to help Hoosiers affected by the pandemic-induced economic downturn— is “simply irresponsible.”
A special session, GiaQuinta said, would allow legislators to put funds toward state contact tracing and testing programs, housing assistance, small businesses and assistance for those who have lost employment as a result of the pandemic. The money, still untouched by the governor, must be returned to the federal government if not used by the end of the year.
“If the governor believes that Black lives matter in Indiana, then he must call this special session,” Lanane said. “If the governor believes Hoosiers should be able to exercise their right to vote safely during a global health crisis, then he must call this special session.”
Republican House Speaker Todd Huston said in a statement that he was in regular contact with the governor’s office and believed Holcomb was working responsibly to use the federal coronavirus relief money.
“While I don’t believe a special session is necessary at this time, important and productive conversations on these topics are ongoing,” Huston said. “I’ve met with leaders from the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and pledged that our team will continue working with them to improve our criminal justice system and policing.”
The Legislature adjourned its regular session on March 11 and is currently not scheduled to consider new measures again until January 2021.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.