INDIANAPOLIS — Changes are being made to how interim study
committees are run because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and some adjustments are
causing concern by limiting public access.
Individuals who wish to submit materials for review by a
committee, including documents, written or pre-recorded testimony and exhibits,
must now contact the Legislative Services Agency at least five days before the
committee meets if they want to be heard.
A person wishing to provide live testimony will now have to
do so in a separate room of the Statehouse. If the Statehouse becomes closed to
the public, only pre-registered witnesses will be able to give testimony.
Stephen Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association — an association of newspapers across the state that Key represents on open records and access to government issues — said this change could limit testimony, because individuals may not intend to testify but decide to speak or ask questions based on members’ comments.
The ability of the press to approach committee members with follow-up questions could also be hindered by the new social distancing protocol, Key said. Members of the media will either watch from a different room in the Statehouse or from a remote location with the livestream.
The ease of having summer study sessions live-streamed on
the Indiana General Assembly website could lead to more viewers from the
public, said Andy Downs, a political science professor at Purdue University
Fort Wayne. While the meetings were live-streamed prior to the COVID-19
pandemic, this option may become more widely used as people follow social distancing
In late July, the Legislative Council — led by House Speaker
Todd Huston, R-Fishers, and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray,
R-Martinsville — created the new safety precautions, including the introduction
of virtual or hybrid meetings.
These new regulations represent a short-term solution for
study committees while they convene to review a range of topics, including
roads and transportation, corrections and criminal code, public safety and
military affairs, agriculture and natural resources and public health. Many of
these will have a specific focus on COVID-19 responses.
Legislative Services Agency Executive Director George
Angelone said decisions for the legislative session in January are being
addressed “one step at a time.”
Longer-term solutions are being sought by the Legislative Continuity Committee as COVID-19 continues to spread. The committee is meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday to discuss alternate locations for the Senate and House that will allow for social distancing. The committee recently toured the Indiana Convention Center and Indiana Government Center as potential sites.
At their last meeting, the members voted in a 5-1 decision
to limit legislators to filing 10 bills in the session and debated extending
Organization Day, which is in November.
The continuity committee will also discuss session logistics
and future committee meeting dates. This is in advance of the 2021 legislative
session, where redistricting and the state’s two-year budget will be key
The Wednesday meeting can be viewed live on the Indiana
General Assembly website.
Those who wish to testify at the interim study committees
should notify the Legislative Services Agency by filling out an electronic
form on the Indiana General Assembly
website or call (317) 233-0696
Taylor Wooten is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news
website powered by Franklin College journalism students.