HOLCOMB QUESTIONS CONSTITUTIONALITY OF BILLS: Gov. Eric Holcomb’s taking a tougher tone on a pair of bills to limit his emergency powers (Berman, WIBC). The House has passed a bill allowing legislators to call themselves into special session to address emergency declarations. The Senate will vote Tuesday on its own version. Holcomb’s consistently declined to comment in detail on specific provisions of the bills, while saying he’s open to discussion of how to give legislators more say in emergencies. But he says he “remains unconvinced” either bill is constitutional as it stands. Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) says while the constitution says the governor can call a special session, it doesn’t specifically say legislators can’t. And he notes neither bill orders the governor to call a session. Holcomb warns the bills could face a court challenge. The Senate bill would let the House speaker and Senate president pro tem call a session, while the House bill would give that power to the Legislative Council, which comprises those two legislators plus 14 more. Holcomb emphasizes the session isn’t even half over, and says there’s plenty of time to discuss the issue further.

 

HOLCOMB SIGNS COVID LIABILITY BILL: Gov. Eric J. Holcomb fulfilled an early promise by signing Senate Enrolled Act 1, which provides businesses and schools with COVID liability protections (Howey Politics Indiana). “The pandemic has affected Hoosier businesses, schools and others in ways no one could have foreseen just one year ago," Holcomb said after signing the bill at his office. "To aid in the state’s recovery, I made providing assurances that they will not have to live and work in fear of frivolous lawsuits a part of my Next Level Agenda. Most Hoosier businesses and other organizations are making good faith attempts to protect their customers and employees, because it is the right thing to do and it makes for better business in the long run. I want to thank lawmakers for rapidly passing this key piece of legislation and sending it to my desk for signature.” The law is retroactive to March 1, 2020 — just before the first coronavirus infection was confirmed in Indiana — and only allows lawsuits against businesses when “gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.”

 

VOUCHER SCHOOLS COULD GET THIRD OF STATE ED FUNDING HIKE: More than one-third of the proposed state funding hike for Indiana schools could go toward the state’s private school voucher program under a Republican-backed plan that could boost the program’s cost by nearly 50% over the next two years (AP). The estimated $144 million cost for the voucher expansion and a new program allowing parents to directly spend state money on their child’s education expenses is included in legislative budget projections—but is more than double what House Republicans discussed in releasing their state budget plan last week. Republicans tout their proposal as giving parents more choices over how to educate their children, while Democrats and other opponents argue that it further drains funding from traditional school districts while they are struggling to find ways to boost the state’s lagging teacher pay. “Lawmakers are prioritizing expanding school choice that benefits a small percentage of students in Indiana, and it’s at the detriment of adequate funding for public education,” said Terry Spradlin, the Indiana School Boards Association’s executive director.

 

REPUBLICANS SHOUT DOWN, BOO BLACK COLLEAGUES: Tempers flared among Indiana legislators during a debate Thursday when Black lawmakers were shouted down and booed by some Republicans and two House members had to be separated in a hallway (AP). Democratic Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis, who is Black, was speaking in the Indiana House against a bill allowing a rural, mostly white, St. Joseph County township to leave the South Bend Community Schools, which is about 60% Black or Hispanic, when he called the proposal discriminatory. Several Republican members said loudly “no” and “stop,” after which Porter, who was wearing traditional African clothing in recognition of Black History Month, left the House meeting room.The debate continued and Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary, who is also Black, called the bill racist. Smith also faced boos and some Republican members started leaving the room. A confrontation soon erupted in a hallway between Republican Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville and Democratic Rep. Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis, another Black lawmaker, and they were separated by other legislators. Summers said she doesn’t remember what was said in the heat of the moment but admitted she “has a mouth” and may have used strong language.

 

BEHIND AMERICA'S BOTCHED VACCINE ROLLOUT: The record-fast creation of Covid-19 vaccines was a triumph. So why is it taking so long to vaccinate Americans? The answer starts with tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses that sat unused in medical freezers across the U.S. in the early weeks of the rollout (Wall Street Journal). In the launch, the federal government set aside far more doses for nursing homes than the facilities needed. A fragmented chain of communication between federal authorities dispatching doses and the local sites ultimately injecting them left the vaccinators in the dark about how many patients they could schedule. Worried about limited supplies, some hospitals and health departments held back doses to make sure they had enough to administer second shots for staff or to meet appointments, creating a bottleneck to the outflow. Vaccinations are now picking up. But early stumbles might extend the pandemic, and leave more people without protection. Health officials say the new coronavirus variants that appear to spread more easily make the distribution of vaccines more urgent. The Trump administration invested heavily in rapid vaccine development, but it left the last mile of getting shots into arms to states and localities. That approach resulted in multiple, sometimes contradictory systems, and failed to ensure local sites had information about vaccine shipments that they needed to quickly administer shots. The result: More than 16 million of the 72.4 million vaccine doses distributed by the U.S. government hadn’t been used as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

STATES FINDING HIDDEN STASHES OF VACCINE: When tiny glass vials of coronavirus vaccine began rolling off production lines late last year, federal health officials set aside a big stash for nursing homes being ravaged by the virus. Health providers around the country figured as well that it was prudent to squirrel away vials to ensure that everyone who got a first dose of vaccine got a second one (New York Times). Two months later, it is clear both strategies went overboard. Millions of doses wound up trapped in logistical limbo, either set aside for nursing homes that did not need them or stockpiled while Americans clamored in vain for their first doses. Now a national effort is underway to pry those doses loose — and, with luck, give a significant boost to the national vaccination ramp-up.

 

VACCINE CLINICS REPORT DELAYS: The coronavirus vaccination clinic at Memorial Coliseum remained open Thursday even as shipping delays are forcing other sites to close (Sloboda, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette). The VA Northern Indiana Health Care System planned to hold a walk-in clinic Saturday in Fort Wayne after rescheduling the initial date because of inclement weather. Now, wintry weather is causing vaccine shipment delays, forcing the veterans agency to cancel the walk-in clinic until doses arrive. The Huntington County Health Department is encountering the same problem. Its clinic at Crestview Middle School is closed today and Saturday. “We are disappointed that we can't give out the vaccine for a couple of days, just as we're sure the people who were scheduled to receive it are disappointed too,” Rhonda Adams of the Huntington County Health Department said in a statement.

 

CHICAGO COMEDIANS POKE FUN AT NATIVE INDIANA: Two Northwest Indiana natives who are now Chicago comedians have launched a new podcast called Defending Indiana to "examine stereotypes, jokes and myths about the Hoosier state" (Pete, NWI Times). Michigan City native Colleen Brennan, a Second City graduate and stand-up comic, and Hammond native Janice V. Rodriguez, an Indiana University graduate and comedian who's performed at Zanies and clubs across the Midwest, discuss the quirks and oddities of Indiana, such as strange state laws and the origins of the nickname Hoosier. They discuss personal experiences, Indiana history and the state's culture on the humorous podcast that aims to both poke fun at and pay homage to the Hoosier state. “We love our Hoosier home state, but it’s kind of like our siblings," Brennan said. "We can make fun of it, but if you do, we’ll cut you.” In the first episode, Rodriguez identifies as a Region Rat, a term she never liked, while Brennan said it was debatable whether LaPorte County was part of the Region. "I watched 'The Sopranos' and thought a rat was a snitch and not cool," Rodriguez said. "We'll need to discuss that on a future episode."

 

COLTS TRADE FOR QB WENTZ: The Philadelphia Eagles have agreed to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts, according to a person familiar with the deal (AP). The Eagles will receive a third-round pick in this year’s draft and a conditional second-round pick in 2022 that can turn into a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75% of the snaps this year or 70% and the Colts make the playoffs. Wentz is coming off the worst season of his five-year career and was benched for rookie Jalen Hurts after 12 games. He finished third in NFL MVP voting in 2017 when he led the Eagles to an 11-2 record before a knee injury ended his season and Philadelphia went on to win its only Super Bowl title. The deal reunites Wentz with Colts coach Frank Reich, who served as Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator his first two seasons in the league. The Colts are turning to their fourth starting quarterback in Reich’s four years.

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: The development of the COVID-19 vaccine was a historic medical triumph; the government rollout has turned into a debacle and, now, a race against time as the virus morphs into variants. With 495,000 deaths, the U.S. and state needs to up its game. Personally, every time I hear a government official tell me to get vaccinated, and there's no course to attain one, I cringe. Like most of us, I want to see friends, family and hit a restaurant or bar. - Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

ZODY, BELL DENOUNCE GOP ‘DISRESPECT’: The Indiana Democratic Party issued the following statements from Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody and Marion County Democratic Party Chair Kate Sweeney Bell in response to the clear disrespect the Indiana Republican Party showed toward the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (Howey Politics Indiana). According to reports, Members of the INGOP attempted to heckle Black leaders into silence, with one member appearing to have used a derogatory word against one of Indiana’s Black elected leaders:  “The Indiana Democratic Party is profoundly disappointed but not surprised to learn about the Indiana Republican Party’s choice to heckle and boo members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus into silence on the Indiana House floor," Zody said. “Hoosiers are taught to respect one another, but it is clear these ideals are not the reality of the Indiana Republican Party. Today’s outburst during the people’s work is unacceptable,” said Bell. “It’s disheartening to see Members of the INGOP use childish taunts in an attempt to silence Indiana’s Black legislators when presented with perspectives other than their own. Hoosier Republicans owe Indiana’s Black leaders an apology.”

 

TRUMP REJECTS MEETING WITH HALEY: Nikki Haley reached out to former President Donald Trump on Wednesday to request a sit-down at Mar-a-Lago, but a source familiar tells Politico Playbook that he turned her down. The two haven’t spoken since the insurrection on Jan. 6, when Haley blasted Trump for inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol. The snub comes on the heels of Tim Alberta’s deep dive in POLITICO Magazine last week on Haley’s presidential ambitions and how she’s trying to have it both ways with Trump. Haley refused to confront Trump over his election lies because he believed they were true. “I understand the president. I understand that genuinely, to his core, he believes he was wronged,” Haley told Alberta. “This is not him making it up.” After Jan. 6, Haley changed her tune. “I think he’s going to find himself further and further isolated,” Haley said of the defeated president. “I think his business is suffering at this point. I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have. I think he’s lost his social media, which meant the world to him. I mean, I think he’s lost the things that really could have kept him moving.” Haley tried to recover Thursday with a damage-control op-ed in the WSJ wrapped in blame-the-media rhetoric. But Trump, apparently, isn’t having it.

 

CRUZ FLIES TO CANCUN AS TEXAS FREEZES: Ted Cruz was already treading on rough political terrain this week — then he boarded a flight to Cancun during a natural disaster (Politico). “I have to admit, I started having second thoughts almost the moment I sat down on the plane,” Cruz said after landing back in Houston. “Frankly, leaving when so many Texans were hurting didn’t feel right, and so I changed my return flight and flew back on the first available flight I could take.”

 

IVANKA WON'T CHALLENGE RUBIO IN 2022: Ivanka Trump will not run for the U.S. Senate from Florida in 2022, according to people close to her as well as an aide to Senator Marco Rubio, who holds the seat (New York Times). Since the final days of former President Trump’s term in office, speculation has been growing that Ms. Trump, his eldest daughter, might try to run for statewide office in Florida, where she and her family have moved permanently. Such a bid would involve a primary challenge to a sitting Republican senator, Mr. Rubio, and a competitive general election. “Marco did speak with Ivanka a few weeks ago,” said Nick Iacovella, a spokesman for Mr. Rubio. “Ivanka offered her support for Marco’s re-election. They had a great talk.”

 

DEMS LOOK TO SUPPLANT IOWA, NH PRIMARIES: The siege of Iowa and New Hampshire has begun (Politico). The two states with privileged places on the presidential primary calendar are finding their roles more threatened than ever before — most recently in the form of a bill introduced in Nevada this week to move that state’s nominating contest to the front of the line in 2024. On its own, the Nevada encroachment would mean little. For years, Iowa and New Hampshire have successfully defended their one-two position from states eager to jump ahead. But the combination of Iowa’s botched 2020 caucus and increasing diversity in the Democratic Party’s ranks has made the whiteness of Iowa and New Hampshire all the more conspicuous, putting the two states on their heels and throwing the 2024 calendar into turmoil.

 

LONGTIME ARKANSAS LEGISLATOR LEAVING GOP: A longtime Arkansas legislator and nephew of the state's Republican governor said Thursday that he's leaving the GOP, citing Donald Trump's rhetoric and the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol by the former president's supporters (ABC News). State Sen. Jim Hendren's announcement closes the door on him seeking the party's nomination for governor next year, but he said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of running as an independent. Hendren said that decision is on the “back burner" as he focuses on an organization he formed aimed at helping independent candidates.

 

Polls

 

RASMUSSEN POLL FINDS IMPEACHMENT DIDN'T HURT TRUMP: In the wake of former President Donald Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial, Republican voters still overwhelmingly favor Trump as their party’s leader. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 42% of Likely U.S. Voters say the recent impeachment proceedings against Trump didn’t make much difference in their opinion of the former president. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of all voters said the impeachment made their opinion of Trump worse, while 28% said they have a better opinion of Trump after his second impeachment.

 

General Assembly

 

NFIFB PRAISES LEGISLATURE FOR LIABILITY LAW: The National Federal of Independent Business thanked legislators for passing and the governor for today signing important small business liability reform (Howey Politics Indiana). “Liability protection is a big win for our struggling small business owners here in Indiana,” said Barbara Quandt, NFIB State Director in Indiana. “A big thanks to our governor and lawmakers for their recognition that protecting our small business owners during this critical time from the worry of getting slapped with a lawsuit will give them peace of mind as they continue to recover from this pandemic.

 

HOUSE APPROVES SOLAR, WIND STANDARDS: The Indiana House has approved a plan to replace various county wind and solar power regulations with statewide standards — providing regulatory certainty to landowners, power generators, and utilities (Carden, NWI Times). House Bill 1381, sponsored by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, was approved 58-38 Wednesday and now goes to the Senate. It sets minimum requirements for commercial renewable power installations that, if enacted into law, would supersede any local regulations that are more stringent, as well as open for development the 32 Indiana counties that have enacted bans on renewable power projects.

 

HOUSES PASSES BILL ELIMINATING LIQUOR STORE OWNER RESIDENCY: A state law protecting Hoosier liquor stores from competitors based in other states, including Illinois, could be eliminated from the Indiana statutes as soon as July 1 (Carden, NWI Times). The Indiana House voted 90-4 Thursday to advance to the Senate legislation updating and changing a variety of Indiana alcohol laws. Among the provisions in House Bill 1396 is the deletion of a requirement that liquor store owners be bona fide residents of Indiana for at least five years to qualify for a state alcohol sales permit.

 

BILL WOULD STRIP INDY OF ZONING CONTROL: A new bill from Republican lawmakers seeks to give Marion County’s four excluded cities and towns more independence from Indianapolis. But the legislation is a sweeping change to law because it also gives some zoning authority to the nine townships, a layer of government that's currently not involved (Lange & Pak-Harvey, IndyStar). The legislation is one of more than a dozen bills introduced by Republicans that directly impacts Indianapolis government. And, as with many matters at the Statehouse, the legislation has a more complicated history and potential impact than one mayor's issue. Some political observers note that Senate Bill 392 marks a larger shift: it moves away from the 1970 consolidation of Indianapolis and Marion County government, a massive undertaking known as Unigov that Statehouse Republicans created just as Indianapolis itself was becoming more Democratic. Unigov pulled in Republican-leaning voters throughout the county, setting up decades of one-party leadership under the GOP.

 

SENATE NARROWLY PASSES INDYGO BUILD: Indiana lawmakers on Thursday narrowly voted to push forward a bill that would strip funding for local public transportation and hinder IndyGo’s ability to pursue its planned expansion of bus rapid-transit lines (Erdody, IBJ). Senate Bill 141, authored by Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, would withhold 10% of local income tax revenue from IndyGo until it meets a private fundraising threshold established in a 2014 law. It also would prevent IndyGo from moving forward with expansion projects, like the Blue and Purple lines, until it secures private funding.

 

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS COULD GET MORE STATE FUNDING AFTER COVID: A year into a pandemic that has forced more than 350,000 Hoosier students to learn remotely, Indiana House lawmakers have proposed full funding for schools that provide virtual education — including online-only schools that have long received lower allocations (McCoy, Chalkbeat). Nearly 18,000 students now attend dedicated virtual schools — a 65% jump from last school year. That figure is dwarfed by the number of children in brick-and-mortar schools who are now learning virtually due to the pandemic. The proposal to inject more money into virtual education, part of the draft budget released by the House Republicans last week, is a victory for advocates of online-only schools who say growing awareness is helping them win support for full funding. Indiana has long funded virtual schools at a lower rate than in-person schools based on the theory that online education is less costly than traditional instruction.

 

DEMENTIA BILL PASSES SENATE 48-1: On Thursday, Senate Bill (SB) 169 passed out of the Senate with bipartisan support. The legislation, authored by State Senator J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) and co-authored by State Senator Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), would require housing with services establishment facilities to report what steps they take to provide special care for residents with Alzheimer's or other causes of dementia (Howey Politics Indiana). The information would be disclosed to the Indiana Division of Aging, who would in-turn be responsible for publicly publishing the reports. "Transparency is crucial for families deciding where their loved ones should reside," Ford said. "Family is such an important concept to Hoosiers, and this legislation will allow families to have access to the information they need to make the best choices for their loved ones when it comes to residential care facilities. We should make it as easy as possible for folks to compare the benefits and options at different facilities." SB 169 passed out of the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 48 to 1. It will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

 

PFAFF CALLS FOR TEACHER VACCINE: State Rep. Tonya Pfaffff, D-Terre Haute, who also is a high school math teacher, has sent a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb urging him to make teachers next in line to be vaccinated (Loughlin, Terre Haute Tribune-Star). In her letter, she says that 28 states, including Indiana’s surrounding states, have expanded vaccines to teachers as a key component to safely re-opening schools. “While workers in healthcare, law enforcement, and licensed social workers are rightfully deemed as frontline workers and prioritized in vaccine distribution, teachers in Indiana are again overlooked and abandoned,” Pfaff stated.

 

BAUER VOTES AGAINST VETO OVERRIDE: State Rep. Maureen Bauer (D-South Bend) today issued the following statement about her efforts to face Indiana's eviction crisis head-on, including authoring multiple proposals and voting to maintain Governor Eric Holcomb's veto on controversial landlord-tenant legislation (Howey Politics Indiana). "When families fall on financial hardship and are displaced from their homes - entire communities and economies suffer," Bauer said. "South Bend is no stranger to crises around affordable housing, high eviction rates and retaliatory landlord-tenant relations with some of the most abysmal renter's statistics in the nation. We have a moral and collective responsibility to use every tool available to meet the most basic needs of our neighbors." South Bend tenant evictions are among the nation's highest, ranking in the top 20 of all major cities. Hoosier renters came under further attack when Indiana Republicans overrode the veto of Senate Enrolled Act 148-2020, which prohibits Indianapolis and other cities from regulating landlord-tenant relationships. Housing and tenant rights advocates maintain the effort stifles cities' abilities to intervene and protect Hoosiers from abusive landlords. Bauer voted to maintain the Governor's override, and offered an amendment in the Indiana House Judiciary Committee to advocate for tenant protections. The amendment was blocked from debate.

 

YOUNG DEMOCRATS DENOUNCE 'DISRESPECTFUL' GOP: The actions of some members of Indiana’s House Republican Caucus displayed disrespect and racism towards Statehouse colleagues, Indiana Young Democrats said on Thursday. That disrespect extends to Hoosiers across the state who elected their Representatives to speak on their behalf. Some members of the House Republican Caucus attempted to mute the voices of those voters today (Howey Politics Indiana). “Firstly, the Indiana Senate passed legislation handing more money to charter schools, stripping public schools of their resources and funding. Additionally, the Senate Education and Career Development Committee this year failed to consider legislation that would have prevented charter schools from using Hoosier tax dollars if they discriminated against students. Last, but certainly not  least, the Indiana House considered and passed racist legislation meant to further segregate our public schools. Thank you to Representatives Porter, Summers, Smith, and Jackson for speaking out and standing up to this legislation,” said Indiana Young Democrats (IYD) President, Arielle Brandy.

 

CAMPBELL'S CLOSED CAPTION BILL DENIED VOTE: State Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette) today commented on legislation expanding the rights of Hoosiers with disabilities that died on the Indiana House of Representative's second reading deadline (Howey Politics Indiana). Campbell, an audiologist, co-authored House Bill 1261 which would have required an owner or operator of a public accommodation to activate closed captioning on all television receivers that are in use during regular hours. The legislation passed out of the Indiana House Commerce Committee with an 11-1 vote. "When it comes to building an accessible space, so often little things that are easily overlooked make all the difference," said Campbell. "For people like some of the patients I work with as an audiologist, having access to closed-captioning is hugely important. 5.2 percent of Hoosiers suffer from severe hearing disabilities. That's about 350,000 Hoosiers who this bill would have directly helped."

 

Congress

 

BRAUN DISAPPOINTED BY WALL DEFUNDING: U.S. Sen. Mike Braun released this statement on President Biden defunding the southern border wall (Howey Politics Indiana): "During my campaign I promised to secure our southern border, and we made tremendous success with the previous administration. I am disappointed with President Biden’s executive orders to undo the ‘America First’ immigration agenda. Between halting construction of the wall on our southern border and a partisan immigration proposal that offers American citizenship to illegal immigrants, it’s clear Joe Biden is not serious about fixing our broken immigration system that rewards illegal behavior."

 

BRAUN ROUND TABLE OVER MINIMUM WAGE: Sen. Mike Braun held a roundtable talk with South Bend area restaurants Thursday to hear their concerns about reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic. But they were looking ahead to something else (Parrott, South Bend Tribune). And Braun said he has talked to Democrats who “get it” when it comes to understanding the damage that eliminating the tip credit would do to restaurants. “It’s the classic case of trying to fix something that isn’t broken,” Braun said. “It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve listened to, that you’d want to take something that’s working so well in an industry that’s been so disproportionately hurt.”

 

YOUNG TO ADDRESS BURMESE HOOSIERS: At 11 a.m. Friday, U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) will address the Burmese American Community Institute, where he will discuss the military coup in Myanmar (Howey Politics Indiana). It will take place at Indiana Chin Baptist Church, 8528 Madison Avenue, Indianapolis. Indiana is home to about 25,000 Burmese immigrants, making it one of the largest Burmese populations in the U.S.

 

WALORSKI CONCERNED ABOUT IRS BACKLOGUE: U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) today renewed concerns over the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) backlog of 11 million unprocessed tax returns and 1.3 million pieces of unopened mail as the new filing season begins (Howey Politics Indiana). Walorski joined Republican members of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee in sending a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig asking for a plan to resolve the backlog and deliver refunds still owed to individuals and businesses. “Based on the latest numbers we have received, over 11 million individual and business returns remain unprocessed, even as the new tax filing season has already begun,” the members wrote. “We have heard from many constituents who filed their taxes last spring but are still awaiting refunds.”

 

BUCSHON COMMENTS ON CLEAN ENERGY: U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) released the following statement regarding today’s Energy Subcommittee hearing, “A Smarter Investment: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future” (Howey Politics Indiana). “What we’ve witnessed this week highlights the critical need for an all-of-the-above energy approach to support American families and businesses. A polar vortex has descended on the nation leaving millions without power, and millions more with rolling blackouts due to insufficient energy production. Americans in Texas are living in frigid temperatures inside their homes because the electric grid’s reliability was compromised. During those times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow, a diverse and balanced energy portfolio strengthens and secures our energy reliability when it matters most. Furthermore, we are now seeing COVID-19 vaccine doses going to waste because facilities are without power to keep them at the proper temperature."

 

BUCSHON ANNOUNCES $4.5M GRANT FOR PERRY COUNTY: U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) released the following statement announcing that the Perry County Port Authority’s Bridge and Rail Added Capacity Enhancement (BRACE) Project has received a grant in the amount of $4,511,548 from the Economic Development Administration (Howey Politics Indiana): “Investments in infrastructure are more important than ever as we continue to fight COVID-19 by moving and shipping vaccines across the nation. Indiana is known as the Crossroads of America because so much freight moves through our state by car, truck, and rail. I am happy to announce the Economic Development Administration has granted over $4.5 million for the Perry County Port Authority’s Bridge and Rail Added Capacity Enhancement (BRACE) Project. This investment will not only produce jobs in the short term but will bolster increased economic opportunity in the region for years to come.”

 

DOLE DIAGNOSED WITH LUNG CANCER: Bob Dole, a former longtime senator and the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, announced Thursday that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer (AP). Dole, 97, said in a short statement that he was diagnosed recently and would begin treatment on Monday. “While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own,” he said.

 

SCALISE MEETS WITH TRUMP: Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, privately met with former President Donald Trump in Florida earlier this week, the latest example of the splintering views among leading congressional Republicans on the role Trump plays in the party going forward (CNN). "He's in Florida this week on political travel and had meetings at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday and touched base with President Trump while he was there," Scalise's spokeswoman Lauren Fine told CNN. Politico first reported the meeting.

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB ANNOUNCES SCHOOL BUS SAFETY REPORT - Gov. Eric J. Holcomb today announced the results of the increased school bus safety patrols that were conducted last fall by Indiana law enforcement agencies. During the two-month mobilization, officers issued a total of 1,553 warnings and 1,701 citations. Of those, 201 were for stop-arm violations (Howey Politics Indiana). The extra patrols were funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through the state’s Stop Arm Violation Enforcement (SAVE) program. The initiative was developed by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute in 2019 to provide safe transportation routes for Hoosier students. “Making sure that students can go to and from school safely is a top priority, but it requires cooperation from the motoring public,” Gov. Holcomb said. “Every driver has a responsibility to pay attention to the road and drive cautiously around buses, in school zones and areas where children may be present.” In total, 2,481 additional patrols were conducted along bus stops and routes, which were identified by coordinating with local bus drivers and school transportation officials. In addition to stop-arm violations, officers cited 852 drivers for speeding, 112 for driving with a suspended license and 94 for not wearing a seat belt.

 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB CHOOSES MASSEY FOR VANDERBURGH JUDGE - Gov. Eric J. Holcomb today announced Thomas A. Massey as his appointment to the Vanderburgh County Superior Court. Massey will succeed Judge Richard G. D’Amour who will retire in April (Howey Politics Indiana). Since graduating law school in 1984, Massey has been in private practice in Evansville with a focus on family law and civil litigation. Massey earned an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a law degree from Valparaiso University Law School. Massey will be sworn in as the judge of the Vanderburgh County Superior Court on a date to be determined.

 

ISDH: THURSDAY COVID STATS - The Indiana Department of Health announced Thursday that 786 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 652,210 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard. A total of 11,854 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 29 from the previous day. Another 427 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. A total of 660 historical long-term care deaths are included in today’s long-term care dashboard. The deaths were previously included in the state totals but had not been assigned to a long-term care facility. To date, 3,065,342 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 3,062,008 on Wednesday. A total of 7,650,673 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26, 2020.

 

UTILITIES: NIPSCO TO CLOSE COAL PLANT EARLY - The northern Indiana utility NIPSCO has announced it will shut down half of it’s R.M. Schahfer coal plant in Wheatfield by the end of this year. That’s about two years earlier than when the whole plant is expected to shut down in 2023 (Indiana Public Media). Nick Meyer is the vice president of state communications for NiSource — NIPSCO’s parent company. He said the reason behind closing half of Schahfer early is the same reason the utility decided to shutter all of its coal plants and move to mostly renewable sources by 2028. “We just continue to see, from an economic standpoint, a significant cost to maintain and continue to operate these units. And the fact that there is cheaper, less expensive energy that we can purchase on the market," Meyer said.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN DOESN'T SEE TEACHER VACCINE PREREQUISITE - White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris do not believe vaccinating teachers is a prerequisite for students to return to the classroom five days a week (CBS News). The Biden White House has been at times unclear on school reopening guidance, but the Centers for Disease Control have not listed teacher vaccination as a requirement to enable students to go back to school in person. During a CNN town hall Tuesday night, Mr. Biden said teachers and support staff should be moved up in priority for vaccinations, but declined to say whether teachers should be required to be vaccinated before returning to the classroom. "I think we should be vaccinating teachers. We should move them up in the hierarchy," Mr. Biden said, though he recognized it's the states that determine the order of priority in administering shots.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN ROLLS OUT IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION - Lawmakers and White House officials unveiled sweeping immigration legislation Thursday, including a proposal for a path to citizenship for roughly 11 million migrants living without legal status in the United States (USA Today). "We're here today because last November, 80 million Americans voted against Donald Trump and against everything he stood for. They voted to restore common sense, compassion and competence in our government, and part of that mandate is fixing our immigration system," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a virtual news conference. The plan is based on the comprehensive immigration legislation proposal President Joe Biden introduced on his first day in office. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 includes: an eight-year pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants; a shorter process to legal status for agriculture workers and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; and an enforcement plan that includes deploying technology to patrol the border.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN TO RESUME IRAN NUKE TALKS - The Biden administration says it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, in a sharp repudiation of former President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure campaign” that sought to isolate the Islamic Republic (AP). The administration also took two steps at the United Nations aimed at restoring policy to what it was before Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018. The combined actions were immediately criticized by Iran hawks and drew concern from Israel, which said it was committed to keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN DOWNPLAYS MINIMUM WAGE - When Joe Biden met with a group of mayors and governors last week he bluntly told them to get ready for a legislative defeat: his proposed minimum wage hike was unlikely to happen, he said, at least in the near term (Politico). “I really want this in there but it just doesn't look like we can do it because of reconciliation,” Biden told the group, according to a person in the room. “I’m not going to give up. But right now, we have to prepare for this not making it.”

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN SCHEDULE - President Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8 a.m. and take part in the virtual G-7 meeting at 9 a.m. He’ll speak to the virtual Munich Security Conference at 11:15 a.m. from the East Room. Then he’ll leave the White House at 11:55 a.m. for Kalamazoo, Mich., arriving at 1:45 p.m. He’ll tour the Pfizer manufacturing plant and meet with workers at 2:25 p.m. before delivering remarks at 3:10 p.m. Then it’s wheels up at 3:50 p.m. He’ll arrive back at the White House at 5:40 p.m. VP Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will head to Los Angeles for the weekend, with nothing on the public schedule. The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 11:45 a.m. Press secretary Jen Psaki will gaggle aboard Air Force One.

 

STATE: U.S. TO PAY WHO $200M - By month’s end, the United States will pay off the arrears it owes to the World Health Organization as well as its current year obligations, the State Department announced Wednesday (Roll Call). In remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would provide more than $200 million “in assessed and current obligations to the WHO” as a “key step” toward complying with U.S. financial obligations as a member country.

 

LABOR: JOBLESS CLAIMS RISE TO 861K - The number of Americans applying for unemployment aid rose last week to 861,000, evidence that layoffs remain painfully high despite a steady drop in the number of confirmed viral infections (AP). Applications from laid-off workers rose 13,000 from the previous week, which was revised sharply higher, the Labor Department said Thursday. Before the virus erupted in the United States last March, weekly applications for unemployment benefits had never topped 700,000, even during the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The figures underscore that the job market has stalled, with employers having added a mere 49,000 jobs in January after cutting workers in December. Nearly 10 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic. Though the unemployment rate fell last month from 6.7%, to 6.3%, it did so in part because some people stopped looking for jobs. People who aren’t actively seeking work aren’t counted as unemployed. In Indiana, 12,970 people filed initial unemployment claims in the week ended Feb. 13, down from an adjusted number of 13,508 the previous week. Prior to the pandemic, the state was typically seeing fewer than 3,000 claims per week.

 

NASA: ROVER LANDS ON MARS - NASA’s rover Perseverance landed safely Thursday on Mars to begin an ambitious mission to search for signs of past Martian life and obtain samples of soil and rock that could someday be hauled back to Earth for study in laboratories (Washington Post). “Touchdown confirmed! Perseverance is safely on the surface of Mars, ready to begin seeking the signs of past life,” announced Swati Mohan, the guidance and control operations lead for the mission at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

 

MEDIA: SUNDAY TALK - ABC “This Week”: White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.). Panel: Chris Christie, Rahm Emanuel, Leah Wright Rigueur and Margaret Hoover. “Fox News Sunday”: Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates. Panel: Josh Holmes, Kristen Soltis Anderson and Mo Elleithee. MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). NBC “Meet the Press”: Anthony Fauci. Panel: Cornell Belcher, Pat McCrory, Susan Page and Kristen Welker. CNN “Inside Politics”: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). Panel: Jeff Zeleny, Laura Barrón-López, Jonathan Martin, Paul Begala and Barbara Comstock. CBS “Face the Nation”: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Scott Gottlieb.

 

ILLINOIS: EX-SPEAKER MADIGAN RESIGNS -  Illinois state Rep. Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who virtually set Illinois' political agenda as House speaker before he was ousted last month, announced Thursday that he is resigning his seat in the Legislature (AP). The 78-year-old Madigan, who was elected speaker in 1983 and served 36 of the next 38 years at the helm, was tarnished by a federal investigation of Statehouse bribery announced last summer that implicated him. He has not been charged with wrongdoing and maintains his innocence. But he lost his bid for a 19th term as speaker to Hillside Democrat Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

 

NEW YORK: FBI TO PROBE CUOMO - The FBI and federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have begun a preliminary investigation into how New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration handled nursing home residents who contracted COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic, a person familiar with the matter told CBS News (CBS News). Cuomo senior adviser Richard Azzopardi said only that the Justice Department "has been looking into this for months," adding, "we have been cooperating with them and will continue to." The investigation was first reported by the Albany Times Union. 

 

Local

 

EVANSVILLE: WINNECKE GETS VACCINATED - Mayor Lloyd Winnecke received his COVID-19 vaccine Thursday. The Mayor said he was signed up for the Ascension St. Vincent Wait List, and his shot was given by retired physician Mark Meyers (WFIE-TV). He reminds those 65 and older can register for an appointment at ourshot.in.gov. St. Vincent has a 60 and older wait list.

 

ELKHART: $860K REGIONAL CITIES FUNDS STILL AVAILABLE — Over $860,000 in Regional Cities funding is still available as planners seek ready-to-go projects this year (Fouts, Elkhart Truth). The South Bend-Elkhart Regional Development Authority on Wednesday discussed the funds and the need to have projects secured by June. The funds include $362,000 earned in interest and $500,000 that was released from a South Bend Chocolate Factory project.

 

INDIANAPOLIS: HOGSETT DISCUSSES HOMICIDES - The criticism has been as sharp as the numbers are startling (Grove, WTHR-TV). Well over 200 people were killed in Indianapolis last year by violence. The city broke a record for criminal homicides. And the local police union, along with some clergy members and residents, have aimed their frustration directly at the mayor's office. "The answer is we haven't failed," Hogsett told 13News. "We are making progress in many different ways and in many different areas, like crimes of violence, robbery, rape and other forms of violent crime. Now we need to focus on the gun violence like a laser." Hogsett said the criminal homicide rate also went down from 2019 to 2020, before going up again. "Our commitment to public safety … remains the same. And that is smaller beats, a return to community-oriented, beat-based policing, adding additional officers to the force … having record numbers of investments in community-based, neighborhood-oriented crime prevention interruption and reduction," he said.

 

INDIANAPOLIS: DPW DEPLOYS 100 SNOW PLOW CONTRACTORS - With up to two additional inches of snow on Indy roadways after early morning accumulation Thursday, the Indianapolis Department of Public Works has secured additional contractors to address side streets and residential roadways not previously plowed this week. As many as 100 vendor trucks will mobilize within the next 24 hours (Howey Politics Indiana). "This second significant snowfall has demonstrated that our neighborhoods are in need of extra assistance," said Mayor Joe Hogsett. "Neighbors along residential streets need this support to address as much as 10 inches of precipitation -- and help is on the way."

 

INDIANAPOLIS: SECOND LIFT NEIGHBORHOOD NAMED - Martindale-Brightwood will be the second neighborhood to receive assistance from the city's 2021 Lift Indy community revitalization program, Mayor Joe Hogsett said Thursday (Bradley, WRTV). The northeast-side neighborhood will receive $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME Investment Partnership Program and Community Development Block Grant funding over the next three years. The money will support programs that promote employment and financial coaching, home repair and affordable housing.

 

ST. JOHN: MAN WANTED FOR INTIMIDATING TOWN OFFICIAL — A St. John man with a history of being kicked out of town meetings for "disruptive behavior" is wanted on charges alleging he intimidated a town official recently (Freda, NWI Times). Adrian Bugariu, 79, is accused of threatening St. John Clerk-Treasurer Beth Hernandez during a recent meeting, Lake Criminal Court records state. Following his comments, Bugariu is facing one count of intimidation, a level 6 felony, and a count of disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor.

 

CARMEL: ASHERWOOD ESTATE SOLD - The opulent Asherwood Estate, valued at $30 million, and its 24-bath mansion once owned by Mel Simon is off the market (IndyStar). The property — along Ditch Road between 96th and 106th streets in Carmel — will be sold to two buyers, an individual who plans to live in the mansion and a developer who plans to build homes around it. The sale prices, however, remain a mystery, as does the identity of the estate's newest resident.

 

VANDERBURGH COUNTY: 2 NEW JUDGES NAMED - First, Governor Holcomb has appointed Thomas A. Massey to Vanderburgh County Superior Court (WFIE-TV). He’ll take over for Judge Richard G. D’Amour who will retire in April. Massey has been in private practice in Evansville since 1984. His focus has been family law and civil litigation. A start date for his new position has not yet been announced. Also, the Vanderburgh County Superior Court has reappointed Les C. Shively to the position of Chief Judge.

 

FLOYD COUNTY: COMMISSIONERS OPPOSE STATE ENERGY CONTROL - Calling it contradictory to home rule, the Floyd County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday opposing a state bill affecting zoning approval for commercial solar and wind energy projects (Suddeath, News & Tribune). Indiana House Bill 1381, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ed Soliday of Valparaiso, sets standards for the installations of wind and solar infrastructure. It includes setback requirements, height restrictions and sound level standards. But critics oppose it because it supersedes local regulations, essentially allowing projects to be completed without direct county oversight. Commissioners said wind turbines and solar panels could be placed without any local approval if the legislation is approved. “We feel like it takes away a lot of the local control for land use and we feel adamantly it needs to stay with the county to go through our plan commission and possibly the commissioners,” said Commissioner John Schellenberger, who sponsored the resolution approved Tuesday. Such legislation would remove home rule authority from counties and, effectively, would limit the voices of local taxpayers’ in issues that can affect planning and zoning issues, he continued. The Indiana Association of County Commissioners opposes HB 1381, which was still pending in the House as of Wednesday after receiving votes on various amendments this week.