COVID LIABILITY SHIELD BILL HEADS TO GOVERNOR: A bill authored by State Sen. Mark Messmer (R-Jasper) that would provide liability protections to Indiana businesses, organizations and individuals in coronavirus-related lawsuits was concurred on by the Indiana Senate today by a vote of 39 to 7 (Howey Politics Indiana). Senate Enrolled Act 1 would provide organizations and individuals with immunity from civil liability for damages if someone is exposed to COVID-19 on their property or during an activity they organized. Manufacturers of personal protective equipment would also be protected. Liability protection would not cover instances of gross negligence or wanton misconduct on the part of the organization or individual. "Many Indiana businesses, organizations and individuals have made significant sacrifices during the pandemic to try and keep those in our community healthy,” Messmer said. “Unfortunately, the losses some businesses have experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic are unrecoverable. Our goal with this legislation is to provide the reassurance and peace of mind organizations and businesses need to resume operations without the threat of a frivolous lawsuit, which will ultimately help our economy spring back.” SEA 1 will now be sent to Gov. Holcomb for consideration.

 

SENATE BILL WOULD PREVENT GOVERNOR FROM CHANGING ELECTION DAY: The Indiana Senate Elections Committee on Monday approved a bill that would prevent the Indiana Election Commission or the governor from changing the date, time and place of an election (Erdody, IBJ). Senate Bill 353, authored by Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, initially would have required proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in the state. But the committee stripped that language from the legislation during Monday’s hearing and replaced it with language that would give only the Indiana General Assembly the authority to change the date of an election. “That role, I believe, is exclusively, constitutionally a responsibility of the Legislature,” Houchin said. “So the language in the bill is just to make it clear that the time, manner and place of the election can only be changed by the General Assembly.” Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order in March that postponed the date of Indiana’s primary election from May 5 to June 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He announced the postponement with the support of Secretary of State Connie Lawson, Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer and Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody. Houchin said if the Legislature wasn’t in session and the election date needed to be changed, there would be a way for the General Assembly to convene.

 

BILL WOULD PREVENT EXPANDING VOTE BY MAIL: The amended SB353 would prevent the Indiana Election Commission from increasing or expanding absentee vote by mail options in the future. The commission did not expand vote-by-mail options before the general election in November (IBJ). The amended bill would also require anyone requesting an absentee ballot to provide their driver’s license number or last four digits of their social security number. The committee approved the bill 7-2, with the two Democratic committee members voting against it. Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, said he’d like to see the state expand the option to vote by mail to all registered voters, so communities don’t deal with long lines at the polls in the future. In Indianapolis last year, voters waited for hours to cast ballots at multiple polling locations. “Regardless of someone’s political affiliation, I think it’s completely wrong for an American citizen to wait in line three to five hours to cast a vote,” Qaddoura said.

 

SECRETARY LAWSON TO RESIGN: Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced Monday that she will step down as Secretary of State. Secretary Lawson has notified Gov. Eric Holcomb and will submit a formal resignation once Gov. Holcomb selects her successor and the successor is ready to serve (Howey Politics Indiana). "I have dedicated the last 32 years of my life to public service. I have served with all of my heart and soul. It has been an honor to serve, but it is time for me to step down," Lawson said. "Like many Hoosiers, 2020 took a toll on me. I am resigning so I can focus on my health and my family. I will work with Governor Holcomb to ensure our next Secretary of State is up to the task and has the tools and resources to hit the ground running.” Lawson was first appointed Secretary of State on March 16, 2012, by then Gov. Mitch Daniels following the resignation Charlie White after he was convicted of felonious criminal charges. She successfully ran for election in 2014 and 2018. She is the longest serving Secretary of State in Indiana history and Indiana’s 61st Secretary of State.

 

REP. SULLIVAN EXPECTED TO REPLACE LAWSON: The name we keep hearing as Crouch successor is State Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, who has been an engineering consultant for the University of Southern Indiana, and managed a database manager for a church (Howey Politics Indiana). Several informed and reliable sources tell HPI that they expect Holcomb to nominate Sullivan. She was appointed to fill the House term of Crouch when she was nominated for state auditor. She is secretary of the Indiana Republican Central Committee and in 2016, she was elected to serve as president of POWER, the Indiana House women’s caucus. Another name popping up is deputy Secretary of State Brandon Clifton, who operates as Lawson's chief operating officer.

 

PELOSI SAYS INDEPENDENT COMMISSION WILL PROBE CAPITOL SIEGE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Congress will establish an independent, Sept. 11-style commission to look into the deadly insurrection that took place at the U.S. Capitol (AP). Pelosi said the commission will “investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex … and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.” In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi said the House will also put forth supplemental spending to boost security at the Capitol.

 

60% IN ABC/IPSOS POLL BACKED TRUMP'S CONVICTION: Nearly 60 percent of Americans believe former President Trump should have been convicted during his second Senate impeachment trial, an ABC News-Ipsos poll taken shortly after the trial ended shows (The Hill). Fifty-eight percent of Americans surveyed in the new poll, which was conducted from Feb.13 to 14 and is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 547 adults, said Trump should have been convicted by the upper chamber on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol last month. The Senate acquitted Trump on Saturday by a 57-43 vote. A conviction would have required two-thirds voting to convict, or 67 votes. The poll found that support for the conviction was starkly partisan. Almost 90 percent of respondents polled who identified as Democrats said they believe the former president should have been convicted, compared to 64 percent of those identifying as independents and 14 percent of those identifying as Republicans who said the same. A majority of respondents agreed that the evidence brought against the former president during the trial was strong. Most polled also said they believed that senators voted during the trial based on what party they belonged to.

 

TWITTER BANS ROKITA POSTING: Twitter has banned replies, retweets and likes on a Valentine's Day-themed tweet from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita that implied the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump (Magdelano, IndyStar). The social media giant took punitive measures against Rokita a day after the state's top lawyer published a meme on his personal account with floating red hearts and the text "You stole my heart like a 2020 election." Below the text is a cartoon-like portrait of Donald Trump. A banner now appears towards the bottom of the tweet saying that the meme contains a disputed claim of election fraud, and that it can't be responded to "due to a risk of violence." Last month, Rokita tweeted a remark suggesting he was challenging Twitter to see how it would respond.

 

PARLER BACK ON LINE: Parler is back online following several weeks of darkness after the social media site popular with supporters of former president Donald Trump was knocked offline (Washington Post). Parler effectively fell off the Internet in January when Amazon refused to provide technical cloud computing support to the site after the tech giant determined Parler was not doing enough to moderate and remove incitements to violence. The site was not fully functional on Monday, and some users reported technical glitches as they tried to log in and refresh feeds. Private messaging was disabled, but the basic outline of the site was live.

 

GATES ADVOCATES GOING BIG ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Forget unrealistic notions about abolishing fossil fuels in a decade, or modest efforts to make electric vehicles a little cheaper (Politico). Bill Gates says President Joe Biden needs to go big on climate change — by fostering the major technological changes that can eliminate greenhouses throughout the economy by the middle of the century. With his new book "How to Avoid A Climate Disaster," Gates argues that leaders need to shift their focus to long-term strategies aimed at creating a zero-carbon future, a task that scientists warn must be accomplished in a handful of decades to head off catastrophic changes. "To do this by 2050 would be a miracle," Gates told POLITICO. "Now, miracles do happen."

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: Identifying an appointed successor is now a dominating factor at the Statehouse. In the General Assembly, 21.3% of current Members were appointed by caucus following resignations. Of the five Statehouse Constitutional offices, Gov. Holcomb and Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch were nominated via the Indiana Republican Central Committee after Gov. Mike Pence joined Donald Trump's presidential ticket in 2016. Holcomb was appointed by Gov. Pence to fill out the term of Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, who resigned in the winter of 2016. Auditor Tera Klutz was appointed to that position after Crouch was elected LG in November 2016. Lawson was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels following the felony conviction and resignation of Secretary of State Charlie White in 2012. - Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

HUPFER STATEMENT ON LAWSON RESIGNATION: Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer issued the following statement on Secretary of State Connie Lawson's announcement that she's retiring (Howey Politics Indiana): "Connie Lawson has been one of the most dedicated, effective, and admired Secretaries of State in Indiana history. For nearly a decade, Hoosiers have trusted her leadership and during her term Indiana has become a national role model in running safe and secure elections. Faced with unprecedented election obstacles in 2020, Secretary Lawson successfully navigated the challenges of the pandemic to ensure Hoosiers could safely exercise their right to vote and be confident in the outcomes. Connie Lawson will be missed in the Statehouse, but I know her contributions to our state will not end with her upcoming retirement. Secretary Lawson certainly leaves big shoes to fill.  I’m confident that her replacement will be able to continue the legacy of election integrity that has been engrained here in Indiana. I look forward to working closely with Governor Holcomb as he makes his decision on this critical appointment."

 

ZODY STATEMENT ON LAWSON: "The Indiana Democratic Party certainly wishes Connie Lawson well as she is looking to focus on what matters most to all of us: family and personal well-being. Upon the appointment of her successor, the Indiana Democratic Party will continue to work to promote safe and fair voting rights for all Hoosiers, and ask our colleagues across the aisle to join us in this effort.” - John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

 

ZODY COMMENTS ON HB1005: The Indiana Democratic Party criticized the Republican supermajority at the Indiana General Assembly for what is an expected approval of House Bill 1005 and the creation of the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) Program, an expansion of the state’s school choice system that’s already gutted funding from Indiana’s public school (Howey Politics Indiana). Indiana’s public schools are set to lose close to $70 million in two years just so this partisan pet project can be created for a program that’s already the largest in the nation.  “If the shoe were on the other foot, the Indiana Republican Party would describe the new Education Scholarship Account program as some ‘radical, liberal agenda’ by Democrats. They would claim Democrats are abusing tax dollars for partisan gain and demand more oversight than simply handing Hoosiers free money,” said John Zody, Chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party. “Through their actions, Republicans have shown they do not value public schools, and they’d rather sever the trust voters provided them to take care of their children’s future than actually look after all schools, all teachers, and all students.”

 

GOP CENSURES 6 OF 7 SENATORS WHO VOTED TO CONVICT: Nearly all of the seven Republican Senators who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, which concluded February 13, are now facing significant blowback and potential censure votes in their home states (Business Insider). The senators who voted to find Trump guilty on a charge of inciting the January 6 insurrection on the US Capitol are Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Burr and Toomey are both retiring their seats when their terms are up in 2022, but their state Republican parties still issued strong statements condemning their votes. "It is truly a sad day for North Carolina Republicans," Burr responded in a statement. "My party's leadership has chosen loyalty to one man over the core principles of the Republican Party and the founders of our great nation."

 

UTAH GOP ACCEPTS ROMNEY VOTE FOR CONVICTION: The Utah Republican Party released a statement Monday accepting the different votes of the state's Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee in last week's impeachment trial, marking a stark contrast with how some other state and county GOP party operations have pursued censure against Republicans who voted to impeach or convict former President Donald Trump (CNN). "Our senators have both been criticized for their vote," the Utah GOP wrote. "The differences between our own Utah Republicans showcase a diversity of thought, in contrast to the danger of a party fixated on 'unanimity of thought.' There is power in our differences as a political party, and we look forward to each senator explaining their votes to the people of Utah."

 

McCONNELL DEFENDS REBUKE OF TRUMP IN WSJ: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Monday rebuked Donald Trump's incitement of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol while doubling down on his vote to acquit the former President of the charge (CNN). "There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility," McConnell wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal of the riot. "His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world's largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended." "I was as outraged as any member of Congress," the Kentucky Republican continued. "But senators take our own oaths. Our job wasn't to find some way, any way, to inflict a punishment. The Senate's first and foundational duty was to protect the Constitution."

 

PERDUE TO RUN IN  GEORGIA IN 2022: Former Sen. David Perdue of Georgia filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Monday evening to be a 2022 US Senate candidate, the first step in a potential comeback bid after a bruising loss in a runoff election last month (CNN). Perdue is leaning toward launching another campaign, according to a person familiar with his thinking. If he does decide to run, Perdue will face Georgia's Sen. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.

 

PRO-TRUMP GOP CANDIDATES EMERGING FOR 2022: A crop of Republicans has launched early campaigns across the country by hewing to former President Donald Trump’s political and policy legacy, betting that his enduring popularity with the GOP base can help propel them into office (Wall Street Journal). Josh Mandel, running for Senate in Ohio, dubs himself “President Trump’s number one ally in Ohio.” Former Rep. Mark Walker, who is running for Senate in North Carolina, joined a legal challenge of President Biden’s win in Pennsylvania and boasts that while in office he earned “the high praise of President Trump and Vice President Pence.” Other pro-Trump Republicans have announced races for governor in Democratic-leaning states such as Virginia, where state Sen. Amanda Chase has dubbed herself “Trump in heels” for this year’s contest, and GOP strongholds such as Arkansas, where former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has already earned Mr. Trump’s endorsement for the 2022 race.

 

Polls

 

GOP JUST CAN'T LEAVE TRUMP: Republicans just can’t quit him. Our flash POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted in the days following the Senate trial shows that despite the impeachment managers’ gripping presentation and video laying out Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 rampage, the GOP remains the undisputed party of Trump (Politico Playbook). Republican voters got over any misgivings they had about Trump’s role on Jan. 6 very quickly. Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters said they want Trump to play a major role in their party going forward. That’s up 18 percentage points from a Morning Consult poll conducted on Jan. 7, and an increase of 9 points from a follow-up poll on Jan. 25, before the impeachment trial began. Another piece of evidence: While Trump’s overall favorability rating is an abysmal 34% in our latest poll, 81% of Republican respondents gave him positive marks. Trump was at 77% approval among Republicans on Jan. 7 and 74% on Jan. 25.

 

53% BACK TRUMP FOR 2024; PENCE POLLS 12%: Fifty-three percent of Republicans said they would vote for Trump if the primary were held today (Politico Playbook). All the other Republican hopefuls are polling in the low single digits, besides Mike Pence, who received 12 percent. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Mitt Romney, Kristi Noem, Larry Hogan, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott and Rick Scott all polled below 5%. Only Donald Trump Jr. and Nikki Haley punched through at 6%.

 

QUINNIPIAC POLL SHOWS 75% OF GOP WANT TRUMP INVOLVED: Two days after the U.S. Senate voted to acquit former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, three-quarters of Republicans say, 75 - 21 percent, that they would like to see Trump play a prominent role in the Republican Party, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll of 1,056 adults released today. Overall, Americans say 60 - 34 percent that they do not want Trump to play a prominent role in the Republican Party. Democrats say 96 - 3 percent and independents say 61 - 32 percent they do not want to see Trump playing a prominent role in the GOP. A majority of Americans, 55 - 43 percent, say Trump should not be allowed to hold elected office in the future. Republicans say 87 - 11 percent that Trump should be allowed to hold elected office in the future. "He may be down, but he is certainly not out of favor with the GOP. Twice impeached, vilified by Democrats in the trial, and virtually silenced by social media... despite it all, Donald Trump keeps a solid foothold in the Republican Party," said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.

 

General Assembly

 

SENATE REJECTS BOHACEK'S DEFUND POLICE BILL: The Indiana Senate has emphatically rejected an attempt by state Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, to strip counties, cities and towns of flexibility with their public safety spending (Carden, NWI Times). Just nine senators, including Bohacek, supported Senate Bill 42 on final passage Monday. A whopping 37 senators voted no; a rare defeat for legislation sponsored by a Republican lawmaker in the Republican-controlled chamber. The measure would have barred local governments from reducing their operating budget for public safety services unless the locality’s total revenue decreased in the prior year or was due to shrink in the year ahead. Transfers out of public safety spending also would have been capped at 5%. Bohacek said his goal was to ensure, in the wake of the "defund the police" movement elsewhere, that Indiana local officials weren't irresponsibly cutting public safety spending to the detriment of their residents and nearby communities. "I've seen what can happen when irresponsible elected officials do things," Bohacek said. "They're there for four years, and they can do a lot of damage in a very short period of time."

 

BILL MAY FORCE DOCTORS TO SAY ABORTIONS CAN BE REVERSED: An Indiana House committee agreed Monday to require doctors tell women considering a pill-induced abortion the procedure can be "reversed" — despite no reliable medical research showing that is true (Carden, NWI Times). House Bill 1577, sponsored by state Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, adds the abortion reversal notice to the 22 other "informed consent" items state lawmakers have mandated women be told prior to obtaining an abortion. Mayfield claims there are numerous instances of women continuing their pregnancies after not taking the second dose of the abortion pill and instead promptly receiving progesterone injections, despite taking the first abortion pill. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has declared abortion reversal attempts are not recommended or supported by scientific evidence, and calls legislative mandates based on unproven, unethical research dangerous to women’s health.

 

DATE CHANGED ON ELIMINATED HANDGUN LICENSE BILL: Indiana’s license requirement to carry a handgun in public would now be eliminated in March 2022, instead of July 2021, under a bill passed by a House committee Monday (Smith, Indiana Public Media). The committee pushed back the bill’s timeline in a bid to placate law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement leaders – including State Police Superintendent Doug Carter – told lawmakers last week that the license system was the only way for frontline police to quickly know whether a person is authorized to carry a handgun in public. Bill author Rep. Ben Smaltz (R-Auburn) said pushing back the elimination of the license will give law enforcement more time to develop a new system that tells police who shouldn’t be carrying a handgun. “For them to make their officers aware and for them to work through some logistics to make it a good change in the law,” Smaltz said.

 

BILL PREVENTS LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FROM BANNING LEMONADE STANDS: Indiana lawmakers want to make sure local governments don’t ban children from operating lemonade stands. And there's a bill unanimously approved by the House and on its way to the Senate that does just that (Smith, Indiana Public Media). Rep. Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) acknowledged he doesn’t know of any Indiana city or town that shut down a child’s lemonade stand. But he said, looking at the law, there’s nothing to stop them from doing that. And he wants to make sure it won’t happen to any Hoosier kids. “[The bill] doesn’t allow them to sell food," Pressel said. "But it does give them the opportunity to become young entrepreneurs.”

 

NIEZGODSKI BILL PASSES SENATE COMMITTEE: On Monday, Senate Bill (SB) 259 passed out of the Senate Family and Children Services committee unanimously. The bill, authored by State Senator David Niezgodski (D-South Bend), recognizes the importance of protecting parents with disabilities from having their parenting rights denied or restricted solely on the basis that the person has a disability (Howey Politics Indiana). “I remain committed to Hoosier families and want to thank the parents that came down to testify in support of this proposal today,” Sen. Niezgodski said. “SB 259 is an important bill that would ensure that parents with disabilities have the opportunity to provide the same loving home to their children as parents without disability. No parent wanting to care for a child should have that right stripped away or face discrimination simply because they have a disability.”

 

BAUER, DVORAK BILLS TAKE ON 'FOREVER CHEMICALS': Concern is growing nationwide about a family of toxic chemicals found in everything from fabrics to food service containers. And that concern has now reached the Indiana statehouse (Gibson, IndyStar). The chemicals, often called "forever chemicals," are linked to severe health impacts, including cholesterol and cancer. They also don't break down naturally. And they're seemingly everywhere. They've even been found in drinking water in Indiana. Known most widely as PFAS chemicals, these substances have been sparking alarm from scientists and health professionals for the better part of two decades now, but little is known about exactly where they are or how much of them is in our bodies. Following a rising trend among states nationwide, two bills filed at the legislature this year — by South Bend representatives Ryan Dvorak and Maureen Bauer — would tackle those blind spots. One would establish a maximum contaminant level for PFAS in state drinking water, a measure already adopted by at least six other states. The other bill would test PFAS levels in current and former military members, who are more likely to be exposed to the toxins because of their use on military bases.

 

BILL WOULD DEVELOP STRATEGIC DEMENTIA PLAN: House Bill 1177, which would require the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration Division of Aging to develop a strategic dementia plan, passed the House Public Health Committee unanimously Monday (Howey Politics Indiana). Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter executive director Natalie Sutton testified in support of the bill, which is authored by Rep. Gregory Porter (D-Indianapolis) and co-authored by Rep. Ethan Manning (R-Denver), Rep. Carolyn Jackson (D-Hammond), and Rep. Brad Barrett, (R-Richmond). Earlier this month, the Chapter held a State Advocacy Week pushing for House Bill 1542. “House Bill 1177 includes what we feel is one of the most important steps in addressing the public health crisis of dementia across Indiana – the development of a state dementia plan,” said Sutton. “We believe that other key components of HB 1542, including training for first responders, will play a key role in the state plan that results from this legislation.” 

 

SENATE PASSES PUBLIC NOTICE ADVERTISING BILL: Hoosiers trying to keep up with local government spending decisions and similar official actions some day may have to waste hours browsing government websites searching for public notices, instead of finding them conveniently published in their local newspaper (Carden, NWI Times). The Indiana Senate voted 39-7 Monday to allow local units of government to post on their websites for as few as seven days any public notices required by law to be published multiple times, so long as the first publication is in a newspaper. State Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo, the sponsor of Senate Bill 332, said he views the legislation as a way to transition to all-electronic public notices, instead of local governments paying to publish the notices in a newspaper. "This is a means for learning the process for local units of government," Buck said. "It's a baby step toward the 21st century."

 

HOUCHIN BILL WOULD MONITOR CHILD INJURIES, DEATHS:  State lawmakers are moving forward with a proposal they say would save the lives of children in Indiana’s child welfare system (Kenney, WRTV). Senate Bill 301 would give the legislature more insight into children who are injured or die that have had previous involvement with the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS). It would expand the scope of local and state child fatality review teams, and allow them to also study when children in the child welfare system are seriously injured. It would also add legislative members to the state’s child fatality review committee. Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Milltown, said the goal is not to criticize DCS but rather to improve procedures and save lives. “The goal is to try to reduce the fatalities or the serious injuries to children-particularly those that have had some involvement with DCS,” Houchin said. “As policy makers and representatives of these children, we owe it to them to be able to further investigate and further ask questions and further study."

 

DeLANEY STATEMENT ON PROPOSED VOUCHER FUNDING EXPANSION - his week the Indiana House will vote on their budget proposal, House Bill 1001. Ways and Means Committee member Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) issued the following statement on the school funding strategy put forward by Republicans as part of the proposal (Howey Politics Indiana). "The education spending proposed in this budget is blind to the needs of our schools, institutions we have built over decades. In such times as these we cannot afford to continue chasing partisan platform priorities at the expense of the very real struggles Hoosier students and their schools are facing. The pandemic has affected all students but especially those already living in or at risk of poverty. Helping these Hoosiers must be our priority in crafting this budget if we truly want to recover. Child poverty rates rose nationwide during the pandemic. We saw a 15% increase in households receiving food stamps right here in Indiana. Yet Republicans have instead focused on expanding giving a tuition cut to those already enrolled in voucher schools. This diverts money to schools and parents who already exercised their 'choice' while cutting support for poor families."

 

BRAY STATEMENT ON LAWSON: Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today regarding Secretary of State Connie Lawson's resignation announcement (Howey Politics Indiana): "Secretary Lawson has had a remarkable tenure as a public servant, and she is someone all public servants, myself included, can learn from. Over the years she has conducted herself with integrity, strength and determination – never backing down from a challenge or a call to serve – and Indiana should be proud to have had this woman in leadership in our state for so long. I am grateful to her for bringing a quiet competence to her office every day for the last nine years. She has given all Hoosiers confidence in the integrity of our elections that is so very important, particularly in the 2020 elections. It has truly been a pleasure to serve alongside Secretary Lawson. I wish her and her family the best as she transitions into the next phase of her life and offer her my hearty congratulations on a job well done."

 

TAYLOR STATEMENT ON LAWSON: Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) issued the following statement after Secretary of State Connie Lawson announced her intention to retire (Howey Politics Indiana): "I commend Secretary Lawson on her over 30 years of public service, including the years I was able to serve beside her in the Indiana State Senate. While we did not always see eye to eye on elections issues, her dedication to our state is admirable. I wish her and her family all the best in retirement."

 

HOUCHIN STATEMENT ON LAWSON: State Sen. Erin Houchin issued this statement on Secretary of State Connie Lawson (Howey Politics Indiana): "I congratulate Secretary of State Connie Lawson on her distinguished career in public service, and wish her all the best in her upcoming retirement. When I served as a State Senate intern in college, I was fortunate to be assigned to then State Senator Lawson, where I saw firsthand her incredible work ethic, dedication to Hoosiers, and passion for service. She has been a friend and mentor to me ever since, and I will always be grateful for her guidance and leadership. She fought for her constituents as a member of the State Senate, and for the past several years, has maintained our election security and integrity to ensure Hoosier elections are free and fair. I thank Secretary Lawson for her service, and know our state is better because of her."

 

CHAMBER LAUDS COVID LIABILITY BILL:  Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar comments on Senate Bill 1 (Civil Immunity Related to COVID-19) being concurred on today and now heading to Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature (Howey Politics Indiana): “We are very appreciative that the Legislature acted so quickly to provide businesses and other institutions with civil liability protection related to COVID-19 lawsuits. More and more of these cases are being filed across the country despite the fact that a person could be exposed to the virus virtually anywhere out in public. “Hoosier businesses that follow accepted COVID-19 safety guidelines should not be subject to litigation that could devastate their companies – many of which are already struggling financially. That’s why this bill is so important and comes as a great relief to businesses – particularly smaller businesses – across the state. And it’s the reason this was our top legislative priority this session.”

 

Congress

 

BRAUN SAYS $15 MINIMUM WAGE WILL COST 'MILLIONS' OF JOBS: Congressional Democrats are not backing off a push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Republicans are scoffing at the measure, one of them Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, who is saying once again that $15 minimum wage increase makes no economic sense (Darling, WIBC). “I always prided in raising wages in my own business doing the old fashioned way where you do it through the system,” Braun told Fox Business over the weekend. “It actually was working across the board, pre-COVID, where wages were rising in place they never did before.” Braun said a “one size fits all” approach to raising the minimum wage doesn’t work insofar as “what might work in New York City may not work in Indiana.” “You might get some benefits from raising incomes,” he acknowledged. “But, your gonna lose somewhere between a million and a million-and-a-half jobs, many of them in the most hard-hit area of restaurants.”

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB STATEMENT ON LAWSON: Gov. Holcomb said, “Indiana’s own Iron Lady, Secretary of State Connie Lawson, has long defined what true public service and leadership is and ought to be all about. Throughout her time in county, legislative and statewide office, she set the standard for commitment, composure, class and credibility.  No matter the year or issues of the day, citizens could bank on Connie Lawson leading the way and inspiring others to follow. I’ll forever count myself fortunate and proud to say, ‘I served with Connie Lawson.’

 

GOVERNOR: CROUCH STATEMENT ON LAWSON -  Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch gave the following statement regarding Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson's announcement that she will step down (Howey Politics Indiana): Secretary Connie Lawson is a perfect example of Hoosiers' pioneering spirit. I have always felt close to her, as our careers have taken similar paths. She started her path of public service in county government before joining the legislature, where she would become the first woman in Indiana Senate history to become majority floor leader. Her decades-long passion as an advocate for stronger awareness of health issues earned her countless accolades from her fellow Hoosiers, and she was a leader among her peers, having been inducted as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State in 2017. Connie made it a goal to leave Indiana in a better place and during her entire public and private life, she has done exactly that. Congratulations to Connie and her family upon your retirement."

 

ISDH: INCLEMENT WEATHER IMPACTS VACCINE CLINICS - The Indiana Department of Health announced today that Hoosiers who have COVID-19 vaccine appointments scheduled this week should be aware that inclement weather could impact clinic operations. The state is working with local vaccination sites to reschedule appointments as needed (Howey Politics Indiana). Individuals whose appointments are impacted will be notified by email or text message about the need to reschedule, which can be done by calling 211. The state is working to ensure that Hoosiers who are scheduled to receive their second dose of vaccine still receive the dose within the appropriate timeframe. A second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that is administered within 42 days of the first dose still provides full immunity to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hoosiers age 65 and older, along with healthcare workers, long-term care residents and first responders who are regularly called to the scene of an emergency to render medical assistance, are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. To schedule, visit https://ourshot.in.gov or call 211 if you do not have access to a computer or require assistance. Individuals must show proof that they live or work in Indiana and meet the eligibility criteria to receive a vaccine. As of Monday, 816,758 Hoosiers have received a first dose of vaccine, and 336,827 are fully vaccinated.

 

VETERANS: STATE URGED TO DEVELOP OXYGEN PROGRAM - Indiana veterans are urging state leaders to finally get the state’s hyperbaric oxygen therapy program off the ground. WRTV Investigates uncovered the program has failed to fully treat any Indiana veterans, this despite a million of your tax dollars allocated for the program three years ago. The state legislature appropriated $1 million during the fiscal year 2018-19 biennium for the hyperbaric oxygen therapy program for veterans. But WRTV Investigates has uncovered only $272,000 of the $1 million has actually been spent.

 

INDOT: PREFERRED I-69 BRIDGE ROUTE COMING BY FALL - The preferred route of a proposed highway that would run from the Ohio River to Interstate 69 in southern Indiana is expected to be announced late this year. That route for the Mid-States Corridor will be identified in a Draft Environmental Impact Statement that should be published in the fall, the corridor’s project team said (AP). Public hearings will be held after that document is published, including a formal comment period, The (Jasper) Herald reported. The Indiana Department of Transportation has proposed five possible routes for the highway, which would be four-lane, limited-access highway that would run north from Owensboro, Kentucky, and through Dubois County to connect to I-69. Supporters of the planned highway say it will improve southern Indiana’s highway connections.

 

ECONOMY: BROOKINGS FINDS STATE NO. 3 IN DIGITAL JOBS - A landmark study from the Brookings Institution finds that while Indiana is number three in the nation for desirable advanced industries - those sectors focused on R & D and STEM that pay more than the average wage - those industries have been losing ground on productivity for more than a decade (Dick, Inside Indiana Business). "They’re doing well, but there’s been a slippage of their competitiveness measured by productivity and we think that’s got to be a priority for the state moving forward,” said one of the authors of the study, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark Muro, who adds the finding underscores the need for more investment in technology. “Companies that are digital need to get more digital and the many that aren’t, including outside of manufacturing, have go to start moving up the curve.”

 

HEALTH: 800 SIGN UP FOR INFB INSURANCE PLANS - After all the hard work at the Statehouse to change the law in Indiana last year, Indiana Farm Bureau’s Health Plan offerings are off and running in the new year (Pfeiffer, Hoosier Ag Today). “We were really impressed so far with our numbers here. We have bound 860 health plans for a January one effective date so we’re really happy with that,” says INFB Health Plans Manager Patrick Williams. “Even more happy is that we are approving applications at 79.74 percent. Again, that’s a really encouraging number and we’re anticipating, once we have the law of large numbers throughout the year, we’re going to be between 80 and 85 percent.”

 

PURDUE: IN-PERSON CLASSES CANCELLED TODAY - Officials at Purdue University have canceled all in-person classes on the West Lafayette campus for Tuesday, February 16th. All online/hybrid courses should continue as scheduled (WLFI-TV). In-person classes can be canceled altogether or may move online. "A significant amount of snow and deteriorating conditions have made travel unsafe for faculty, staff, and off-campus students, prompting the decision," said a spokesperson for the university.

 

NBA: BULLS RUN PAST PACERS -  Zach LaVine wants to be more than just a flashy scorer. It’s a work in progress, but he showed Monday night how much he has improved this season (AP). After scoring 12 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter to help Chicago force overtime, LaVine dug in defensively and helped lead the Bulls to a 120-112 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN CALLS FOR ASSAULT WEAPON BAN - On the third anniversary of the Parkland school shooting, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass stricter gun laws, including banning assault weapons (CBS News). In a statement from the White House, Mr. Biden on Sunday asked Congress to pass laws requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers. "Today, as we mourn with the Parkland community, we mourn for all who have lost loved ones to gun violence," Mr. Biden said. The White House didn't provide more details about Mr. Biden's plan.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN HEADS TO WI, MI TODAY - Now that former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is over, President Joe Biden is working this week to shift attention back to his ambitious agenda, with COVID-19 and his $2 trillion relief package taking center stage (ABC News). As Biden continues to work to get at least some Senate Republicans on board, he’ll also take his message outside of Washington and directly to the American people while making his first official trips as president. On Tuesday, Biden will take part in a televised CNN town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before heading to Kalamazoo, Michigan Thursday, where he is expected to tour a Pfizer manufacturing facility currently producing the COVID-19 vaccine and meet with workers.

 

WHITE HOUSE: FAUCI FEARED DEATH BY COVID - Dr. Anthony Fauci, 80, told Axios managing editor Margaret Talev on "Axios on HBO" that he feared COVID could get him, particularly during the Trump administration "when I was going to the White House every day, when the White House was sort of a super-spreader location." "I think you'd have to be oblivious not to consider the fact that if you get infected, that you are already in a category of someone who has a high risk of having a serious outcome," Fauci said. "I didn't fixate on that. But it was in the back of my mind, because I had to be out there."

 

WHITE HOUSE: HARRIS CONTRADICTS FAUCI - Vice President Kamala Harris is claiming in a new interview that the Biden administration is “starting from scratch” to develop a national vaccine distribution plan because former President Donald Trump left them with nothing, contradicting comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci, who disputed that contention last month (New York Post). “There was no national strategy or plan for vaccinations, we were leaving it to the states and local leaders to try and figure it out,” Harris told ”Axios on HBO” Sunday evening. “In many ways, we are starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year,” she added. Harris said she constantly asks the White House coronavirus team whether there is “capacity to do more?”

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN/HARRIS SCHEDULES - President Biden and VP Harris  will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 12:30 p.m. Biden will leave the White House at 5:30 p.m. for Joint Base Andrews, traveling to Milwaukee, where he’ll arrive at 6:30 p.m. Central time. He’ll have a CNN town hall at 8 p.m. Biden will leave Milwaukee at 9:50 p.m. and eventually end up back at the White House at 12:50 a.m. Eastern time. Press secretary Jen Psaki will brief at 11:30 a.m.

 

AUTOS: JAGUAR GOING ALL ELECTRIC BY 2025 - Struggling luxury car brand Jaguar will be fully electric by 2025, the British company said Monday as it outlined a plan to phase out internal combustion engines (ABC News). Jaguar Land Rover, which is owned by Indian conglomerate Tata Motors, hopes the move will help turn around the fortunes of the 86-year-old Jaguar brand, which for many epitomizes class but has struggled in recent years.

 

NEW YORK: DEMS SEEK TO ROLL BACK CUOMO POWERS - New York's Democratic leaders are in active discussions to draft a bill to repeal Gov. Andrew Cuomo's expanded executive powers after a top aide's damaging admission about Covid-19 nursing home deaths (CNN). "There's momentum moving in the direction of removing his powers," a source told CNN. The source said there was support for the removal of Cuomo's expanded powers before the aide's comments were made public, but now, "it's definitely going to happen." A bill is likely to be introduced this week in the state Legislature and voted on early next week. Democratic leaders in the Legislature have broad support from lawmakers to pass a bill when it is put to a vote.

 

PUERTO RICO: GOVERNOR EXPECTS STATEHOOD - In San Juan, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told Alexi McCammond for "Axios on HBO" that "Congress is morally obligated to respond" to the island's recent vote for statehood. He said he expects a House bill to be introduced next month. Statehood, discussed for decades, is more likely than ever, with Democrats controlling Congress and President Biden supporting it.

 

MICHIGAN: WHITMER OPTS FOR FREE INCREASES OVER TAX HIKES - Though Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed no tax increases in her 2022 budget last week, the budget calls for increases to more than 140 fees for state government services, ranging from getting a traffic crash report from the Michigan State Police to getting a permit to develop areas designated as wetlands (AP). The proposed fee increases, which are all double-digit or triple-digit in percentage terms, would raise an extra $27.6 million annually for state government, if approved by the Legislature. That's a tiny addition to a $67-billion state budget, but state officials say most of the fees have not been increased in many years and are needed to help pay for the staff who deliver the services.

 

Local

 

INDIANAPOLIS: DPW SAYS TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS THRU WEDNESDAY AM - The Indianapolis Department of Public Works (Indy DPW) and emergency management officials with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) have announced that advisory travel restrictions will continue through at least 6 A.M. tomorrow, Wednesday, February 17 (Howey Politics Indiana). Indy residents should travel only if absolutely necessary, restricting routine use of roadways and allowing Indy DPW plows full access to safely remove snow from major thoroughfares and secondary streets. "While roads are technically passable, this is not the time for unnecessary trips," said IMPD's Emergency Management Bureau Commander Tom Sellas. "For your safety, and the safety of others who must be on roadways, please consider staying at home--teleworking if possible--while plow crews continue to clear roadways."

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS: DPW MOVES TRASH PICKUP BACK A DAY - Due to the anticipated heavy snowfall starting Monday afternoon, Indianapolis Department of Public Works is suspending all residential trash and curbside recycling services in Indy solid waste districts serviced by Indy DPW, Waste Management, and Republic Services on Tuesday, February 16. Services will slide one day forward as long as weather permits.

 

FISHERS: COUNCIL APPROVES NEW AFFORDABLE HOUSING - The Fishers City Council narrowly approved a rezoning request Monday night that will allow the development of 11 affordable, for-rent homes to be built at the southwest corner of 141st Street and Cumberland Road (Christian, IBJ). Low-income housing provider Hamilton County Area Neighborhood Development Inc., known as HAND, received approval on its request for a 1.8-acre property at 13995 Cumberland Road for its planned Cumberland Cottages neighborhood. The zoning change paves the way for HAND to build houses on the site for tenants making 60% of the area’s median income. In Hamilton County, that equates to $39,000 for a two-person household. The rezone was approved 5-4 after several council members reiterated concerns from neighbors and members of the Fishers Plan Commission about the project’s perceived impacts to the area’s density, traffic, safety and property values.

 

GARY: SCHOOLS TO REOPEN THIS WEEK — The Gary Community School Corp. is sticking to its plan to return to in-person instruction this week (Freda, NWI Times). In a message Monday, the school district said it plans to have asynchronous virtual learning on Tuesday and Wednesday due to inclement weather. Winter weather, including heavy snow and bitter cold, pushed back the return to in-person learning from Tuesday to Thursday, the school corporation said.

 

ST. JOHN: COUNCILMAN RESIGNS - After one term of service, Town Council Vice President Paul Panczuk is resigning (NWI Times). In a Facebook post Sunday to the St. John, Indiana, group, as well as on his politician profile, Panczuk announced his resignation, citing a change at his job for the early departure. "I am sorry to be leaving before my term is over," Panczuk wrote. "However, due to an unexpected restructure at my workplace late last year, and related time constraints associated with the new assignment, I no longer have the time to perform my duties with the focus and dedication they deserve, and you the residents deserve. Thank you for your confidence in me. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve."

 

NOBLE COUNTY: GROVES JOINS PROSECUTORS OFFICE - Noble County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Mowery has announced that Jamie M. Groves will be the office’s next chief deputy prosecutor starting March 1 (KPC News). Groves will replace Adam Mildred, who has served as chief deputy since Mowery took over as prosecutor in 2019. Mildred recently resigned to return to the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, which is where he was previously employed before joining Noble County’s staff.

 

ALLEN COUNTY: 2ND SHERIFF CANDIDATE EMERGES - Troy Hershberger, a current deputy chief with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, is running for Allen County Sheriff (WANE-TV). Hershberger has called a Tuesday news conference to make the formal announcement. Hershberger is currently the sheriff’s department’s Administration Division Commander. He has been with the sheriff’s department for more than 25 years. Fort Wayne Police Department Captain Mitch McKinney has already announced a campaign to run for sheriff. Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux’s term expires at the end of 2022.