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No Masks For Indiana Lawmakers Despite Virus Spread

Indiana statehouse

(Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Indiana lawmakers won’t be compelled to wear face masks as they meet next week at the Statehouse for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic was first sweeping across the country in March.

The Legislature’s organizational meeting set for Tuesday will occur as the state’s rates for COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and newly confirmed infections have soared in recent weeks and a statewide mask mandate issued by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has been in effect since July.

READ MORE: Monroe County COVID-19 Count Jumps By 109 Cases, State Surges Past 6,000

But the Republican-dominated Legislature isn’t ready to require mask wearing among the 100 House members and 50 senators. A joint House-Senate committee voted Thursday against a proposal from a Democratic lawmaker for rules enforcing a face mask policy.

“At this point, we are making it a strong encouragement and we’re still discussing the issue of how we can control the mandate of that,” said Republican Rep. Matt Lehman of Berne, the committee’s chairman and House majority floor leader.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis pointed to the state’s recent 10% average rate of tests confirming COVID-19 infections as a concern that needs to be treated more seriously.

“I simply don’t want to turn our Organization Day into a super spreader,” DeLaney said. “Do the math — if you’ve got 100 people in the room, you can guess as well as I can that at least a few are going to be positive.”

Both the House and Senate plan to meet Tuesday inside their Statehouse chambers, with many members sitting in the public balconies in order to provide greater distancing. During those meetings, legislators to be sworn into office and they will formally elect leaders.

Lawmakers are scheduled to return in early January to begin their 2021 session. The House plans to then start holding its floor sessions and committee meetings in the conference rooms and auditorium of a state office building that are larger than those available in the Statehouse, which first opened in 1888. The Senate plans to continue meeting inside the Statehouse.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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