INDIANAPOLIS– More than 40 organizations are pushing lawmakers to make it easier to participate in the legislative process from home.
The group argues COVID-19 will stop many Hoosiers from being at the statehouse next session.
This coming session includes hot button topics like the pandemic, Indiana’s budget, redistricting and justice reform.
“The issues for this session may be more consequential than at any time in our recent history at the same time as it may be more challenging for the public to be present and be part of those conversations,” said David Sklar, President of the Indiana Coalition for Human Services.
Lawmakers have made some changes so Hoosiers can be involved, like allowing virtual testimony from another room at the Statehouse. Still, more than 40 Hoosier organizations agree they need to do more.
“This year we know things are going to be challenging,” said Sklar.
Especially when so many Hoosiers are working from home, quarantining because they were exposed or at high risk for COVID-19, e-learning with their children, or unable to find childcare during a pandemic.
“So, we need to try to create other mechanisms,” said Sklar.
Things like allowing testimony from home, allowing pre-recorded or written testimony and or sign-up sheets with windows of time in which testimony will occur so people don’t have to wait hours.
“I think everything that we are asking for is realistic,” said Sklar.
Women4Change Executive Director Rima Shahid agreed and said this organization is proud to fight for more transparency for Hoosiers.
“The world of zoom has showed us that it is possible to do this,” said Shahid. “The process is not very clear for the average citizen and so many things go under the radar without people really knowing about it.”
These organizations would also like to see amendments published online earlier and more public notice before legislative meetings occur.
“I don’t anticipate lawmakers to have transparency in 2021,” said Shahid. “I hope they prove me wrong.”
It’s unclear whether these demands will be met in 2021. Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston sent a statement.
During the upcoming legislative session, we will maintain the same level of transparency and openness as in prior sessions. While the pandemic presents unprecedented challenges both logistically and procedurally, public input and participation is critical to the legislative process and remains a top priority. All committees and session will continue to be streamed live and archived online as well, and the public will have opportunities to safely testify.Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray also responded to the requests:
The Indiana General Assembly has a strong track record of providing access and transparency to the public with regard to our legislative sessions, and we have every intent of maintaining that record in the 2021 session,” Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said. “Even amid the global pandemic, we are providing ways, with safety protocols that are consistent with CDC guidelines, for the public to participate in our legislative process. Though we believe there is always room for improvement, ICHS is calling for new rules and changes of venue that I don’t believe are achievable at this time. Between livestreaming all committee and session meetings to the world, accepting submitted written testimony and allowing on-site committee testimony, in-person and video meetings, phone calls, emails and letters, lawmakers will be as accessible and transparent as we always have been.Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray
The 40 organizations plan to keep fighting and hope the public joins.
“Reach out to your legislators and let them know what your personal circumstances are and why engaging in the legislative process this year might be challenging for you,” said Sklar.