INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Indiana lawmakers are preparing to partially move some of their 2021
legislative session activity out of the Statehouse over coronavirus
House-Senate committee on Wednesday endorsed a plan aimed at allowing the
100-member House to hold its floor sessions and committee meetings in the
auditorium and conference rooms of a state office building next to the
Statehouse in downtown Indianapolis.
The 50-member state
Senate is planning to keep meeting in its Statehouse chamber but will
convert its public gallery into seating for senators in order to allow
sufficient distancing when the legislative session starts in January.
Wednesday would have House committees meet in government center conference
rooms that are larger than those available in the Statehouse, which first
opened in 1888. Those testifying about bills being considered, however,
would have to speak by video from other rooms and the public could only
watch floor proceedings from video monitors outside where the House and
Senate would be meeting.
decided against using the nearby Indiana Convention Center for the
legislative session, citing concerns about cost and the further distance
from the Statehouse. But the convention center could be used as a location
for the governor’s annual State of the State speech to all 150 lawmakers.
plan would have House members meeting for debates and votes inside three
conference rooms combined into a single space inside the Indiana Government
Center South building, which is connected by tunnels to the Statehouse.
center offers us an alternative to be in one space as a chamber,” said
Republican Rep. Matt Lehman of Berne, who is chairman of the Legislative
Continuity Committee. “We can move back here in a day, but we can’t move
there in a day.”
Democratic Rep. Ed
DeLaney of Indianapolis said he wasn’t certain the convention center should
be eliminated from consideration as the Senate hasn’t yet tried having its
members work from the public gallery.
“I would not want
to be one of the people in the balcony, with my laptop on my lap and papers
on the floor and somebody trying to come down the aisle to hand me a paper,”
concerns have led to changes for state lawmakers across the country.
For instance, the
Michigan Legislature has been meeting this summer in the state Capitol, with
some House members sitting in the public gallery for additional spacing.
Illinois lawmakers moved to Springfield’s convention center for its meetings
haven’t yet set rules on the wearing of face masks and whether legislators
or staff members will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing.
The House chamber
is typically a crowded place during legislative sessions, with House members
packed near each other at 100 desks and dozens of staff members and guests
often on the floor as well.
A review determined
up to 120 people could fit throughout the House floor’s desks and seats in
the balconies and gallery with six-foot distancing, said Adam Baker of the
nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. The government center conference
rooms could accommodate 110 people with desks.
“In no way am I
suggesting, just to be clear, that this will be like a normal session,”
Baker said. “This is all about space. As you socially distance, it is all
about space availability.”