HOUSE PASSES BUDGET 65-30: The Republican-controlled Indiana House on Monday passed a $36.3 billion two-year budget mostly along party lines. The budget, which would take effect in July and still needs Senate approval, would make a handful of one-time investments in small businesses, regional projects, student learning loss, health initiatives, broadband and police training, and it would significantly increase funding for the private school voucher program (Erdody, IBJ). House Bill 1001, authored by Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, includes $150 million for a learning loss grant program, $30 million for a small business grant program, $50 million for a health grant program and $150 million for the regional collaboration program that Gov. Eric Holcomb pitched during his State of the State address this year. It also includes $70 million to pay for upgrades at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Plainfield and $250 million to expand broadband internet access through the Next Level Broadband Grant Program. The House passed the spending plan 65-30 on Monday evening. Two Republicans—Rep. John Jacob of Indianapolis and Rep. Curt Nisly of Milford—voted against it. For K-12 funding, the budget increases the allocation by 1.25% during the first year and 2.5% in the second year, for a total of $378 million in new dollars over the biennium. But more than one-third of that increase would be dedicated to expanding the state’s school voucher program, which uses public dollars to pay private school tuition. That program’s cost would go from about $174 million this school year to $256 million in two years.

 

BILL WOULD GIVE LEGISLATURE CONTROL OVER ELECTION METHODS: Lawmakers would have more control over elections under a bill making its way through the Indiana Senate (Wright, WOWO). Senate Bill 353 was approved on a 34-15 vote. It says that only the legislature can decide where, when, and how elections take place. The bill is in response to Governor Eric Holcomb encouraging the state election commission to delay last year’s primary and open up absentee mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Opponents of the bill on both sides of the aisle said Holcomb made the right call, with one, Sen. Greg Taylor, of Indianapolis, accusing the bill’s supporters of “creating a problem.” The bill also requires those submitting an absentee ballot to either include their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number.

 

HOUSE VOTES TO END GUN PERMITS: House members voted 65-31 largely along party lines to eliminate the gun permit requirement that supporters of the move argue undermines Second Amendment protections by forcing law-abiding citizens to obtain the permits. The bill would allow anyone age 18 or older to carry a handgun except for reasons such as having a felony conviction, facing a restraining order from a court or having a dangerous mental illness (AP). Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Ben Smaltz of Auburn argued that criminals don’t obey the permitting law and that it gives a false promise of keeping guns away from violent people while forcing those allowed to carry guns to undergo police fingerprinting and other steps to obtain the permits. “It is not a shield, it is not security,” Smaltz said. “Criminals are criminals and are going to do what criminals do.” Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter and leaders of the state police chiefs association and Indiana Fraternal Order of Police, however, testified against the repeal earlier this month, saying it would eliminate a valuable screening tool identifying dangerous people who shouldn’t possess handguns.

 

TIGHTER ABORTION RESTRICTIONS PASS HOUSE: The Republican-dominated House also voted 67-29 in favor of a bill that would require doctors to tell patients about a disputed treatment to stop a drug-induced abortion after a woman has taken the first of two pills for the procedure (AP). Abortion opponents argue the bill ensures that women who may change their minds about ending their pregnancies have information about stopping the process by taking a different drug after having taken the first of the two drugs for a medication abortion. Abortion-rights supporters maintain doctors would be forced to provide dubious information to their patients. Bill sponsor Republican Rep. Peggy Mayfield of Martinsville said she believed the proposal could reduce abortions in the state. “You make abortion more unthinkable because you are providing the mother with additional information and alternatives to abortion,” she said

 

BIDEN OBSERVES DEATHS OF HALF MILLION AMERICANS TO COVID: As America marked the inconceivable toll of 500,000 dead from COVID in just over a year, President Biden addressed the nation with an emotion that showed he's willing to be the face of one of history's biggest crises (Howey Politics Indiana). "I know that when you stare at that empty chair around the kitchen table, it brings it all back — no matter how long ago it happened — as if it just happened that moment you looked at that empty chair. And the everyday things — the small things, the tiny things — that you miss the most. That scent when you open the closet. That park you go by that you used to stroll in. That movie theater where you met. The morning coffee you shared together. The bend in his smile. The perfect pitch to her laugh."

 

J&J TO PROVIDE 20M VACCINE BY END OF MARCH: Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the greenlight from federal regulators (AP). J&J disclosed the figure in written testimony ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited. The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year. U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

 

SCOTUS REJECTS TRUMP CASE TO PREVENT DA's ACCESS TO TAX RETURNS: The Supreme Court has cleared the way for prosecutors in New York City to receive eight years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records as part of an ongoing investigation into possible tax, insurance and bank fraud in Trump’s business empire (Politico). The high court’s decision to turn down Trump’s request for a stay of a grand jury subpoena advances a criminal probe by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. that appears to be one of the most serious of an array of legal threats Trump faces in his post-presidency. The justices issued no explanation for the denial and no member of the court publicly noted any dissent.

 

CPAC DIRECTOR LAMENTS PENCE NO-SHOW: Appearing on MSNBC Sunday, American Conservative Union director Dan Schneider explained that CPAC invited former Vice President Mike Pence along with former President Donald Trump last year while they were still in the White House. Trump agreed to attend recently, while Pence revealed this weekend that he would not be attending (Raw Story). "We're disappointed the former vice president isn't joining us," Schneider told Joshua Johnson on MSNBC Sunday. "He can still come. He is a real champion for conservatism. He spoke at CPAC 13, 14 times over the years, and I know if he were to come to CPAC, he would be treated very warmly with great respect, and frankly, I really hope that he reconsiders, and if he wants to come, we'll make room for him." While Schneider says that Pence would get a warm reception at CPAC, conservatives chanting for his death could be a deterrent.

 

ANTI-TRUMP REPUBLICANS CAN'T FIND A HOME: When Jim Hendren, a longtime Arkansas state legislator, announced on Thursday that he was leaving the GOP, it marked the latest in a flurry of recent defections from the party. Tens of thousands of Republicans across the country have changed their registrations in the weeks since the riot at the Capitol — many of them, like Hendren, becoming independents (Politico). Other former party officials are discussing forming a third party. But if the Republicans’ reasons for leaving the GOP are obvious — primarily, disdain for former President Donald Trump and his stranglehold on the party — the sobering reality confronting them on the other side is that there’s really no place to go. The Democratic Party, which continues to move leftward, isn’t a good ideological fit. Those who want to fight to recapture the GOP from within are vastly outnumbered. Building a third party from scratch requires gigantic sums of money and overcoming a thicket of daunting state laws designed in large part by the two major parties. “Right now, everybody’s just trying to figure out how to coalesce what is a small fraction of the Republican Party — what do we do with it,” said former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. “And starting a third party is extremely difficult.”

 

HPI DAILY ANALYSIS: After moving the 2020 primary to June and opening up the vote by mail process due to the COVID pandemic, Gov. Holcomb was reluctant to make further election changes, saying that was the duty of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 353 passed the Senate, stipulating that it is, indeed, the General Assembly which sets election rules, mandating that it will set election dates if it passes the House and is signed by the governor. Other legislation that would expand vote by mail have been rejected in the House and Senate. – Brian A. Howey

 

Campaigns

 

REP. WESCO SEEKS SECRETARY OF STATE: State Rep. Timothy Wesco, R-Osceola, is seeking to replace Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who announced last week that she is stepping down (Elkhart Truth). Lawson, 71, has served in the position since 2012 and said she is stepping down to focus on her health and her family. She said her resignation will take effect when whomever the governor chooses to replace her is ready to serve.

 

LIBERTARIANS COMMENT ON LAWSON RESIGNATION: The Indiana Libertarian Party has called Secretary of State Connie Lawson's resignation last week as an example of "one-party tyranny" (Howey Politics Indiana). "The mid-term vacancy perpetuates one-party tyranny, and represents an increasingly common practice to disenfranchise Hoosier voters by ensuring that Republican candidates only run as incumbents," said Tim Maguire, Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Indiana. Open races, without an incumbent, are far more competitive and give Hoosier voters a fair fight among the candidates.

 

INDEMS TARGET YOUNG, BRAUN ON MINIMUM WAGE HIKE: The Indiana Democratic Party criticized the Indiana Republican Party for using "debunked misinformation to justify their opposition for an increase to the minimum wage" (Howey Politics Indiana). U.S. Senators Mike Braun and Todd Young falsely claimed raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour would mean job loss and pain for small business owners. Governor Eric Holcomb described having a minimum-wage job as setting a “minimum expectation” with someone’s life. “It’s simple: the Indiana Republican Party does not support working-class Hoosiers, and by voting against raising the minimum wage, they are telling Hoosiers the low-wage jobs they bring into the state is the best it’s going to get for their families,” said Lauren Ganapini, executive director for the Indiana Democratic Party.

 

4 SEEK MARION COUNTY GOP CHAIR: Four people have filed for the chair position as of Saturday, according to Marion County GOP Executive Director Scott Zarazee. The internal party election is scheduled for March 6. The list includes Cindy Mowery, city-county council member Michael-Paul Hart, Alex Henby and former state house District 97 candidate John Schmitz. Hart said he had not spoken with the author of the bill and is not sure about the purpose or timing of it. But he stressed a need to bring stability to the party (Pak-Harvey, IndyStar).  "We need to be more of a party that doesn't just throw stones, but we need to be a party of proactive leadership that shows voters in Marion County that we have good solutions," he said, "that we have good values and we have good candidates." Henby, who is currently an elected precinct committee person and has worked on several Republican campaigns, said he does not think the person in the position should be an elected official above the precinct committee person level.  Henby, who believes he would be the first openly transgender person to run for the post, said his biggest goal is to make the position a full-time one. Schmitz, who previously attempted to run as an independent in the 2019 mayoral election and lost an election in house District 97 with nearly 40% of the vote, called Sandlin's bill "very interesting."

 

Polls

 

ARG 58% APPROVE OF BIDEN: A total of 58% of Americans say they approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job as president and 34% say they disapprove of the way Biden is handling his job according to the latest survey from the American Research Group. In January, 30% approved of the way Donald Trump was handling his job as president and 56% disapproved. When it comes to Biden's handling of the economy, 61% of Americans approve and 33% disapprove. In January, 38% approved of the way Trump was handling the economy and 57% disapproved. When it comes to Biden's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, 62% of Americans approve and 29% disapprove. In January, 29% approved of the way Trump was handling the coronavirus outbreak and 68% disapproved.

 

57% BACK RESCUE PLAN: Most voters support passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package despite concerns that Congress has filled the bill with expensive items that have nothing to do with coronavirus. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 57% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of the coronavirus relief bill currently being negotiated in Congress. Thirty-three percent (33%) oppose the measure and 10% of voters are not sure.

 

General Assembly

 

HOUSE BUDGET IGNORES TEACHER PAY COMMISSION; PASSES CIG TAX: The House-passed budget does not address any of the recommendations from the governor’s Teacher Pay Commission’s report, which recently concluded that $600 million would be needed to address the pay shortfall for Indiana educators (Erdody, IBJ). For higher education, the budget restores a 7% cut Holcomb ordered for colleges and universities in fiscal year 2021 to adjust for revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic. Then it holds university funding flat in fiscal year 2022 and increases it by 2% in fiscal year 2023. No capital projects are included in the budget currently. The budget plan is projected to leave the state with a surplus of $130 million in fiscal 2022 and $227 million in fiscal year 2023. Reserves would be at 11.9% of spending in fiscal year 2022 and 11.7% in fiscal year 2023, which means the state would have about $2 billion set aside. The budget also includes a cigarette tax increase, but it’s only a fraction of the amount advocates had sought. The cigarette tax would increase from $1 to $1.50 and a 10% retail tax would be imposed on e-cigarettes and e-liquids. A different bill considered this year would have increased the cigarette tax to $2. Advocates for the tax increase argued that $2 didn’t go far enough and have pushed to raise it to $3. State lawmakers have not increased the cigarette tax since 2007.

 

SPEAKER HUSTON ON REACHING HALFWAY POINT: House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) provided the following statement today in response to House lawmakers successfully reaching the session halfway point, and passing the remaining Indiana House Republican priority bills to the Senate (Howey Politics Indiana): "During the fast pace of the first half, we worked extremely hard to complete the people's business while safely managing through the pandemic. House Republicans successfully passed all of our top legislative priorities, and we look forward to seeing those bills clear the Senate in the second half. Despite the unprecedented economic challenges of the last year, Indiana not only weathered the storm but we're also making strategic investments to help Hoosiers and our economy bounce back stronger than ever before. Whether it's including an additional $438 million in new money for K-12 public education or $250 million in broadband expansion grants, we're focused on helping Hoosier students, families and workers. Our budget also provides pandemic relief through new or expanded grant programs that focus on improving public health, helping students recover from learning loss due to the pandemic, and supporting businesses that are struggling to keep their doors open. As we move ahead, I look forward to working with our Senate colleagues and Governor Holcomb to take our priorities across the finish line."

 

SPEED CAM BILL DIES IN HOUSE: Hoosiers appear to have escaped monitoring and punishment by speed enforcement cameras for at least one more year (Carden, NWI Times). The Indiana House did not vote either up or down on House Bill 1465 before Monday’s deadline, meaning the legislation is not advancing to the Senate and likely will not be enacted into law. The proposal, sponsored by state Reps. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie; Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso; and Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, would have authorized the Indiana Department of Transportation and state police to establish a "pilot program" with four work zone speed enforcement camera sites on highways across the state.

 

LANANE GUARDIAN BURIAL BILL PASSES SENATE: On Monday Senate Bill (SB) 276 was approved out of the Senate with a vote of 46-3. The proposal, authored by State Senator Tim Lanane (D-Anderson), would allow guardians to make certain arrangements and decisions regarding the deposition of a protected person’s body upon their passing. Sen. Lanane had the following remarks on the passage of his bill (Howey Politics Indiana): “SB 276 is a common sense proposal that’s supported by the Funeral Directors Association, and I’m glad it’s receiving bipartisan support and advancing in the Statehouse,” Sen. Lanane said. “Indiana has nearly 8,000 adult guardianships—the majority of which have been established for adults 65 and older. This age group makes up the largest percentage of persons who live in long term nursing homes and have also passed from contracting COVID-19. In too many of these cases, guardians have struggled to assure that the person they have served is buried with dignity and expediency. "\When there is a loss, it’s important that we try to limit hurdles that make it difficult for guardians to make important arrangements on behalf of the persons they protect."

 

SENATE PASSES CARBON FOOTPRINT BILL: Senate Bill (SB) 373 passed out of the Senate with a vote of 33 to 16. SB 373 is authored by State Senator Susan Glick (R-LaGrange), State Senator J.D. Ford (D-Indianapolis) and State Senator Rick Niemeyer (R-Lowell) (Howey Politics Indiana). The bill amends the current conservation trust program by providing the program with additional powers to reduce carbon footprints through partnerships with farmers. Sen. Ford released the following statement on the passage of SB 373: "I want to thank everyone that testified in favor of this bill," Sen. Ford said. "I always aim to enact legislation that my constituents support, and I was happy that we had so many colleagues sign onto the proposal as well." SB 373 allows interested Hoosiers to invest in carbon sequestration processes. Those funds would then cover the costs of the program. SB 373 also amends the law regarding the clean water Indiana program. "This bill provides landowners and farmers with an incentive to participate in a carbon market," Sen. Ford stated.

 

FLEMING CALLS FOR WIDE ACCESS TO BIRTH CONTROL: State Representative Rita Fleming (D-Jeffersonville) called for better access to birth control today on the House floor before passing House Bill 1577 on abortion (Howey Politics Indiana). “We can prevent unwanted pregnancies, and therefore abortions, if women have more access to birth control,” Fleming said. “I am advocating for women who need better access to contraceptives so they don’t have to face the heavy choice of terminating their pregnancy.” Fleming, a retired obstetrician, has spoken extensively on making birth control accessible, especially in drug treatment centers. For two legislative sessions now, she has tried to pass a bill to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control, which has received support from both sides of the aisle. She filed an amendment to House Bill 1468 with the same goal, but it was not heard. “It is the ultimate hypocrisy to oppose abortion and then deny access to safe, reliable birth control,” Fleming said. “We continue to regulate abortions and restrict women’s choices, but we don’t address the root of the problem. We wouldn’t be having these bills if we had better access to birth control.”

 

PORTER STATEMENT ON BIENNIAL BUDGET PASSING HOUSE: State Rep. Gregory W. Porter (D-Indianapolis) today released the following statement regarding House Bill 1001, the biennial state budget, which passed through the House (Howey Politics Indiana). "Amid a global pandemic, Indiana House Republicans could have proposed commonsense measures to provide relief, protect essential services and invest in our human infrastructure," Porter said. "Instead, their proposal for the state's biennial budget diverts money away from our K-12 public schools, cuts health and social services funding and provides no significant relief for Hoosier families. COVID-19 is already devastating the Hoosier State, but the supermajority's budget will make it even more difficult to recover for years to come. Indiana House Democrats will remain diligent and work with our colleagues across the aisle as House Bill 1001 moves through the legislative process." House Bill 1001 passed through the House with a vote of 65-30.

 

PHYSICIAN COALITION PRAISES HOUSE BUDGET PASSAGE: The Indiana Physician Coalition applauded legislators from the Indiana House of Representatives for their work to continue funding critical medical training programs. Lawmakers from that chamber on Monday voted to approve House Bill 1001, which sets the State budget (Howey Politics Indiana). Members of the Indiana Senate will take up the budget during the second half of the 2021 legislative session beginning March 1. The Indiana Physician Coalition is advocating to increase or maintain the $8 million biennial appropriation over two years to the Graduate Medical Education (GME) Board to develop and sustain physician residency training programs throughout the state, including in rural and underserved areas. Since the creation of the GME Board in 2015 by the Indiana General Assembly, more than 70 new resident physicians and 220 residency slots have been created. That adds up to an additional 126,000 direct primary care hours for patients. “There’s no question that Indiana needs more physicians, and it’s an encouraging sign that our representatives in the House understand that need and are doing something about it,” said Roberto Darroca, president of the Indiana State Medical Association, one of 12 groups that are leading the coalition. “With this funding, we can continue to increase the number of physicians practicing in Indiana whose rigorous education and training have prepared them best to meet the needs of our population.”

 

NIEZGODSKI'S PARENTAL RIGHTS BILL PASSES SENATE: On Monday Senate Bill (SB) 259, authored by State Senator David Niezgodski (D-South Bend), was unanimously approved out of the Senate. The bill sets a precedent of prioritizing family and children by making it state policy to recognize the parenting rights of every parent, including those with disabilities (Howey Politics Indiana). Sen. Niezgodski had the following response on the approval of his bill: "I'm grateful for the overwhelming support SB 259 received in session today," Sen. Niezgodski said. "This is a win for Hoosier families and I'm glad my colleagues recognized the importance of this proposal, as well. I think advancing bills like this demonstrates Indiana's commitment to pairing children in need of homes with good loving families." SB 259 provides that individuals cannot be denied parenting rights, such as foster care, custody and adoption, due to a disability. These procedures would be ensured by the Department of Child Services.

 

HOUSE PASSES BIPARTISAN HOMELESS BILL: State Representative Justin Moed (D-Indianapolis) applauded the passage of House Bill 1095, establishing a task force to create the city’s first low barrier homeless shelter. Moed authored the bill to provide more support for those experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis. The bill passed 92-2, and now heads to the Senate for further consideration (Howey Politics Indiana). The task force will be co-chaired by the Governor and Mayor, and will bring together Indianapolis community leaders in both nonprofit and business sectors. Low barrier shelters give homeless Hoosiers a warm place to stay 24 hours a day, seven days a week without the requirements of other shelters. They also connect people to employment, treatment and other critical wrap-around services. “I am pleased to see our chamber come together to provide vital support to our homeless neighbors,” Moed said. “For too long, these people in our communities have been overlooked and their struggles ignored. This task force is the first step in rectifying the relationship between those experiencing homelessness and their community.

 

SENATE BILL HELPS GOP CHAIR CANDIDATE: A Republican lawmaker from Indianapolis has filed a bill that would remove a barrier to one candidate for the Marion County Republican Party chair race (IndyStar). Rep. Jack Sandlin proposes to void an Indianapolis ethics ordinance that would prohibit a county chair from doing business with the city. More specifically, Sandlin's bill allows a city employee to serve as both the county party chair and an employee without any sanctions or discipline. Sandlin declined to comment for this story. But it just so happens Senate Bill 415 would benefit Cindy Mowery, one of four people who have filed to become chair of the Marion County Republican Party. Mowery serves as the Republican appointee of the Voter Registration Board, one of several appointments made by the county party chair and the only one that carries a salary. She did not respond to requests for comment.

 

EVANSVILLE SCHOOLS OPPOSE HB1005:  The Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation’s stance is unwavering on a proposed bill that would put public dollars in the private school sector. Indiana House Bill 1005, if approved, could allow some students to be given grants towards private school tuition through state dollars (WFIE-TV).

 

INDYGO BILL TO BE HEARD TODAY: Republican lawmakers at the statehouse are targeting IndyGo in a bill that would likely put the future of the Purple and Blue Line Projects in jeopardy in Indianapolis if it were to become law. The bill, authored by State Sen. Aaron Freeman, changes the definition of tax money as recognized by the state when it comes to rapid transit bus projects (Darling, WIBC). Under current state law, IndyGo must get at least 10-percent of its operating expenses for expanded projects, such as the existing Red Line, from places other than taxes and fares. IndyGo go says they are in compliance with that statute now since they get the rest of their funding from federal grants. But, a recent opinion from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita says he defines federal grant money as tax dollars. Freeman’s bill would make that opinion law, effectively putting IndyGo out of compliance. “The Indiana Attorney General declares what the law is in Indiana, and that’s the opinion I’m going with,” Freeman told WISH-TV. The bill passed a Senate committee 7-5 with one Republican joining four other Democrats in voting “no” on the measure. The State Senate will vote on the bill Tuesday, and if it passes it will head to the Indiana House for review. If it becomes law, IndyGo’s federal grant money would be considered tax dollars, and thus 10-percent of their funding would have to come from other means like advertising.

 

7TH CD RESIDENTS TO TESTIFY AT REDISTRICTING HEARING: Residents of Indiana’s 7th Congressional District are invited Wednesday to testify on what they think of their current voting districts and what they would like to see in new districts (Howey Politics Indiana). The testimony will be collected by the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC), a diverse and multi-partisan group of Indiana voters that the redistricting coalition, All IN for Democracy, has assembled to serve as a model for how redistricting should be conducted. It takes place at 7 p.m. (ET) Wednesday and will be livestreamed. The public testimony will be included in a report to the Indiana General Assembly and will set the parameters for a public mapping competition for a statewide map of community-focused districts. The ICRC’s goal is to show the state legislators who are in charge of redistricting how a transparent and nonpartisan process results in maps that better reflect community interests. “The ICRC will show that a politically balanced group of citizens working transparently and in cooperation with citizens can devise districts that will serve the public interest, not the interests of politicians,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana and a leader of All IN for Democracy. “We need more people involved in the conversation. If the legislature won’t draw fair maps, we will.”

 

HOUSE DEMS FLED TO ILLINOIS 10 YEARS AGO: Ten years ago, Indiana House Democrats walked out of the Statehouse and headed to Illinois in the middle of session, halting all legislative business for more than a month (Smith, Indiana Public Media). It was a legislative walkout that made national news and had an impact that’s still felt today. Democrats had controlled the Indiana House for most of the first decade of the 2000s. But Republicans recaptured the majority ahead of the 2011 session, and with that came Right to Work – a controversial bill affecting labor union dues.

 

Congress

 

HOUSE RETURNS TONIGHT: The House returns tonight. … At 6:15 p.m., on the east front center steps of the Capitol, congressional leaders and members will hold a moment of silence for the half-million Americans lost to the pandemic (Politico Playbook). The Senate at 11:30 a.m. will vote on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N. … At 2:15 p.m., senators will debate the nomination of Tom Vilsack to be secretary of Agriculture, followed by a confirmation vote. At 10 a.m., the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees will hear testimony about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol from Robert Contee, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department; Steven Sund, former chief the U.S. Capitol Police; Michael Stenger, former Senate sergeant-at-arms; and Paul Irving, former House sergeant-at-arms.

 

BANKS EMPHASIZES CONSTITUENT SERVICES: ON Thursday, February 25 Constituent Services staffers Derek Pillie and Kathie Green will lead a training webinar advising other Congressional offices about handling casework. The workshop will feature presentations from staff and agencies and roundtable discussions targeting constituent service work with specific agencies (Howey Politics Indiana). It will last from 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM. So far, over 200 caseworker staff from over 100 different congressional offices have registered. U.S. Rep. Jim Banks has made constituent services a priority since he arrived in Congress. In 2020, Rep. Banks Constituent Services team closed 1,359 cases, which is almost 3 times the number of cases closed in Indiana’s 3rd district the year before Rep. Banks took office. Since January 1, 2021, Rep. Banks’ district office documented $337,822.53 returned to northeast Indiana Hoosiers who worked with Congressman Jim Banks for assistance.

 

GARLAND PROMISES JAN. 6 INSURRECTION PROBE: Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general, pledged Monday to make the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol his top priority if confirmed by the Senate (NBC News). Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing, Garland said in his opening statement that if confirmed, he would "supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government." Garland, who helped investigate and prosecute the Oklahoma City bombers in the 1990s, said he believes the riot last month was not a “one-off.” The Department of Justice must do everything in its power to ensure that Americans and democratic institutions are protected from white supremacists, he said. "I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution," Garland said, pausing and appearing to choke up a bit as he spoke. "The country took us in — and protected us — and I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. This is the highest best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”

 

GARLAND DID NOT DISCUSS HUNTER BIDEN WITH PRESIDENT: Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland said on Monday that he has not discussed a Justice Department investigation involving Hunter Biden with President Biden or other members of the administration (The Hill). "I have not. The president made abundantly clear in every public statement ... that decisions about investigation and prosecutions will be left to the Justice Department," Garland said during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in response to a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). "That was the reason that I was willing to take on this job. So the answer to your question is no," Garland added.

 

ROMNEY TO OPPOSE TANDEN NOMINATION: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) will oppose Neera Tanden's nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), underscoring the dwindling number of potential GOP supporters for her confirmation (The Hill). “Senator Romney has been critical of extreme rhetoric from prior nominees, and this is consistent with that position. He believes it’s hard to return to comity and respect with a nominee who has issued a thousand mean tweets," Romney's office said in a statement, confirming his opposition.

 

COTTON TARGETS BECERRA NOMINATION: Conservatives know they likely don’t have the votes to block President Joe Biden’s pick to run HHS, Xavier Becerra. But they’re launching new ad blitzes and pressure campaigns targeting Senate Democrats up for reelection and others they believe can be swayed, aiming to make a vote to confirm him a political liability (Politico). Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who has led Republican opposition to Becerra in the chamber, is spending tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds on digital ads starting this week, when Becerra will appear before two Senate committees. The ads, which were first shared with POLITICO and will run until Becerra's confirmation vote on the Senate floor, urge voters to pressure Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) to vote against Becerra.

 

HOUSE DEMS BEGIN TO PUSH YOUNG FOR OMB: House Democratic leaders are quietly mounting a campaign for Shalanda Young, a longtime congressional aide, to replace Neera Tanden as nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget, people familiar with the matter tell (Axios). The nascent campaign for Young, who would be OMB's first Black female leader, reflects a stark reality taking hold in the Democratic Party: Tanden's prospects are rapidly fading. The intrigue: Young, who is currently waiting for a confirmation hearing in the Senate to be deputy OMB director, may still face competition from Gene Sperling, who has the distinction of twice leading the National Economic Council.

 

State

 

GOVERNOR: HOLCOMB ORDERS FLAGS LOWERED FOR COVID VICTIMS – Gov. Eric J. Holcomb is directing flags across the state to be flown at half-staff in memory of the more than 500,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 (Howey Politics Indiana). Per the President’s proclamation, flags should be flown at half-staff from now until sunset Friday, February 26. Gov. Holcomb also asks businesses and residents to lower their flags to half-staff.

 

GOVERNOR: PUBLIC BROADCASTERS HONOR HOLCOMB - America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) today presented the Champion of Public Broadcasting Award to Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, in recognition of his support for Indiana public television stations’ initiative to provide remote learning services to students without broadband access (Howey Politics Indiana). “With Governor Holcomb’s early investment in public television’s datacasting work, nearly 11,000 Hoosier students without broadband access will soon be connected to essential learning resources, using a portion of our broadcast spectrum as an education lifeline,” said Patrick Butler, president and CEO of APTS.

 

GOVERNOR: CROUCH LAUNCHES NATURE PASSPORT - Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, the Indiana Destination Development Corporation (IDDC) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are teaming up to launch the Indiana State Nature Passport (Howey Politics Indiana). "Indiana is blessed with unique places and remarkable natural features," said Crouch. "From State Parks to forests and lakes, this passport includes almost 60 scenic locations to explore." This free "digital passport" encourages visitors to discover new places and enjoy the outdoors. Sign up online for the passport and receive custom prizes for visiting multiple destinations across the state. Visitors need to check-in from a smartphone at one of the designated passport locations. Participants earn more by visiting more locations. Visitors who sign up this week (Feb. 22-28) will receive a free sticker.

 

ISDH: MONDAY COVID STATS - The Indiana Department of Health announced Monday that 824 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 656,358 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard. A total of 11,982 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 35 from the previous day. Another 425 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. To date, 3,085,554 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 3,083,893 on Sunday. A total of 7,794,765 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26, 2020.

 

INDOT: $100M FOR RURAL PROJECTS AVAILABLE - The Indiana Department of Transportation announced Monday that $100.8 million in federal transportation funding is being awarded to 54 cities, towns, and counties in rural portions of Indiana to invest in local road and bridge improvements as well as sidewalk and trail projects (Howey Politics Indiana). Combined with local funds, approximately $124.9 million is being invested in infrastructure in communities receiving funds. Types of projects receiving funds include 32 bridge rehabilitation/replacement projects; 11 resurfacing/reconstruction projects; 6 Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) projects that include work such as sidewalks, ADA ramps, and trails; and 5 traffic safety projects. “Local transportation improvements are critical to growing and enhancing Indiana's communities,” INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness said. “Our sustained commitment to modernizing local roads and bridges, adding sidewalks, and growing our trail networks sends a clear message that we’re building cities, towns and counties that are primed to attract and retain talent and spur job growth in the 21st century economy.” A list of all communities receiving funds can be seen by clicking here.

 

CORRECTION: MIAMI LEADS IN COVID PRISON DEATHS - Miami Correctional Facility has reported two more COVID-related inmate deaths in the last month, bringing the total to 11 and making it the highest death total among the state’s prisons (Gerber, Kokomo Tribune). In December, the facility reported three confirmed inmate deaths due to COVID, and another four deaths presumed to be from the virus, making it the third highest combined death rate in the state. By mid-January, the prison had reported two more confirmed COVID deaths. Since then, the prison added another confirmed death and presumed death from the virus. In total, 38 confirmed deaths and 12 presumed death have been reported at the 22 facilities operated by the Indiana Department of Correction. Half of those have no reported deaths.

 

ISP: CAMPAIGN AGAINST ID THEFT - The Indiana State Police and Indiana Department of Workforce Development (DWD) are reminding Hoosiers to stay vigilant when it comes to protecting one’s identity from theft (Howey Politics Indiana). DWD has seen the number of fraudulent attempts to file unemployment insurance (UI) claims spike due to the coronavirus and the additional financial assistance available through federal programs such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. With tax season here, Hoosiers who may have had their personal information compromised could encounter problems when filing their taxes. DWD works closely with the Indiana State Police, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, FBI, Secret Service and the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, as well as several banking partners, to ensure appropriate prosecution and recovery of funds where possible, once identity theft is discovered.

 

DNR: SUGAR RIDGE GUN RANGE CHANGES HOURS - The rifle and handgun range at Sugar Ridge Fish & Wildlife Area (FWA) will operate under winter hours until at least July 30 (Howey Politics Indiana). A reclamation project to remove a highwall and regrade the surrounding land is taking place downrange. For the safety of those workers, the range will operate under reduced hours for the duration of the project. The Area 3 Shooting Range will be open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET, Friday through Sunday. The shotgun and archery ranges will not be affected by this project and will operate normal hours.

 

CMM: 16 INDIANA HOSPITALS FINED - Sixteen Indiana hospitals, including six in the Indianapolis area, will be docked millions of dollars by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for high rates of infection or patient injuries (IBJ). Nationally, 774 hospitals will receive lower payments for a year under the Hospital-Acquired Conditions Reduction Program. Each year, Medicare cuts payments for hospitals that fall in the worst-performing quartile. The fiscal year 2021 penalties are based on patients who stayed in the hospital between mid-2017 and 2019. One in every 31 hospital patients in the U.S. contracts an infection during their stay, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Health News. Infections and other complications can prolong hospital stays, complicate treatments and, in the worst instances, kill patients.

 

PURDUE: DANIELS TO INTERVIEW RYAN, HEITKAMP WEDNESDAY - Purdue University's Presidential Lecture Series will return on Wednesday (Feb. 24) with a virtual discussion on "American Democracy: Where Do We Go From Here?" featuring former U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (Howey Politics Indiana). Purdue President Mitch Daniels will moderate an hourlong discussion among Ryan, Heitkamp and members of the Purdue University Political Discourse Club and other student political organizations. The discussion will be held at 6 p.m. ET via a livestream on Purdue’s YouTube channel. The event is free and open to the public, although registration here is recommended.

 

IU: SPRING COMMENCEMENT WILL BE IN PERSON - Indiana University says it is planning for an in-person commencement this spring at all seven IU campuses, but attendance will be limited to graduates (Mills, Inside Indiana Business). The university says family and friends will be invited to attend virtually. IU says the outdoor ceremonies will be for both 2020 and 2021 undergraduate and graduate students. Graduates who do not attend commencement in person will still be recognized. IU President Michael McRobbie says it was an “agonizing decision” to cancel last May. "But given IU's success in keeping our campuses and communities safe, as well as our nation's progress in fighting the pandemic, we believe it will be possible this May to hold in-person, outdoor commencement ceremonies for all of our students on all of our campuses, and to do so safely and consistent with our pandemic public health policies."

 

BUSINESS: STEAK & SHAKE AVERTS BANKRUPTCY - Indianapolis-based Steak n Shake has averted a potential bankruptcy filing by purchasing and retiring the remaining balance of a $220 million loan due next month, Bloomberg reported on Monday morning (IBJ). The company completed its repurchase from lenders on Feb. 19, according to Bloomberg’s sources, who asked not to be named discussing private transactions. Steak n Shake and advisers including FTI Consulting Inc. and the law firm Latham & Watkins were preparing for a potential Chapter 11 filing earlier this month while the company negotiated with holders of the debt, Bloomberg previously reported. Those investors included Fortress Investment Group. Steak n Shake and its advisers declined to comment.

 

Nation

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN TARGETS SMALL BUSINESSES WITH PPP - The Biden administration will give the country's smallest employers two weeks of exclusive access to emergency loans, in a bid to target aid to minority-owned businesses and other companies that have struggled the most to obtain the funds during the pandemic (Politico). From Wednesday morning to the evening of March 9, only businesses with fewer than 20 employees will be able to apply for aid through the massive Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans that can be converted into grants if businesses keep paying workers. It is one of a series of steps the administration announced on Monday to get more aid to underserved businesses. "One of the things I've heard again and again from small business owners ... is that knowing about support is one thing," President Joe Biden said at a press conference. "Getting it is another." Less than half of the PPP's more than $284 billion in current funding has been used since it relaunched Jan. 11, with little concern that it would be exhausted.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN HAD A NORMAL WEEKEND - President Biden did not do anything this weekend. Well, let’s rephrase: President Biden did not do anything alarming this weekend (New York Times). There were exactly eight tweets, each one rooted in what can best be described as reality. There was a visit to spend time with an ailing friend, Bob Dole, a former Republican senator. And there was a stop at church with the grandchildren. Since Mr. Biden assumed office, the weekends have been portraits of domesticity — MarioKart with the kids at Camp David, bagels in Georgetown and football in Delaware. A Peloton devotee, he hasn’t even played golf. Mr. Biden’s demonstrable uninterest in generating audacious headlines only emphasizes how much the Trump-size hole in Washington has created a sense of free time in all realms of the capital. Psychically, if not literally. Though the workload remains (this is still Washington, after all) people are grabbing a few more hours of sleep in the span of time formerly known as the weekend.

 

WHITE HOUSE: MIDDLE EAST NOT A BIDEN PRIORITY - President Joe Biden is tired of dealing with the Middle East — and, barely a month into his tenure, the region has noticed (Politico). The signals are not meant to be subtle, his advisers say. The president has made only one call to a head of state in the Middle East — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday — which itself was delayed by more than three weeks and followed calls to other allies and even adversaries like Russia and China. “If you are going to list the regions Biden sees as a priority, the Middle East is not in the top three,” said a former senior national security official and close Biden adviser. “It’s Asia-Pacific, then Europe, and then the Western Hemisphere. And that reflects a bipartisan consensus that the issues demanding our attention have changed as great power competition [with China and Russia] is resurgent.”

 

WHITE HOUSE: AFTER A MONTH BIDEN HAS ONLY 6 CABINET MEMBERS - President Biden's top priority thus far has been combating the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s doing so without a Senate-confirmed Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary (The Hill). The White House has been vexed by messaging on reopening schools, and it's still without an Education secretary to steer the process. And the administration has punted to the Justice Department on issues like Biden's authority to cancel student loan debt and whether former President Trump should face prosecution for his role in the Jan. 6 riots, a strategy that has been complicated by the lack of a confirmed attorney general. Biden is more than a month into his presidency, but the Senate has confirmed just six of his Cabinet nominees, leaving critical vacancies as the president seeks to navigate competing crises.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN KEEPS TRUMP POLICY ON WTO - President Joe Biden’s administration dashed hopes for a softer approach to the World Trade Organization by pursuing a pair of his predecessor’s strategies that critics say risk undermining the international trading system. The U.S. delegation to the WTO, in a statement Monday obtained by Bloomberg, backed the Trump administration’s decision to label Hong Kong exports as ‘Made in China’ and said the WTO had no right to mediate the matter.

 

WHITE HOUSE: BIDEN, HARRIS SCHEDULES - President Biden and VP Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden and domestic policy adviser SUSAN RICE will lead a roundtable with Black essential workers at 1:15 p.m. in the South Court Auditorium. At 4 p.m., Biden will have his virtual bilateral meeting with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, with Harris attending; the leaders will give statements at 5:45 p.m. Press secretary Jen Psaki will brief at noon.

 

SCOTUS: PA ELECTION CASE WON'T BE HEARD - The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a pair of legal challenges to Pennsylvania's election rules mounted by former President Donald Trump's GOP allies, closing the book on Mr. Trump's efforts to contest the outcome of the presidential election (CBS News). The court rejected the cases as moot, as President Biden has been sworn in as the nation's 46th president and Mr. Trump is no longer in office. In addition to declining to take up the two cases involving Pennsylvania's deadline for mail-in ballots, the Supreme Court also rejected election-related disputes from Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin with no noted dissents. Republicans appealed a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that extended the deadline for mail-in ballots to be counted if they are received up to three days after the election. In turning away the cases, the state high court's ruling remains intact. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the cases.

 

SCOTUS: STORMY DANIELS DEFAMATION CASE REJECTED -  The Supreme Court on Monday turned away a defamation dispute between Stormy Daniels, a former adult film actress, and former President Donald Trump, who Daniels' claims to have had an affair with years before he was president (CBS News). In declining to revive the lawsuit filed by Daniels, the Supreme Court leaves untouched a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the former president. Mr. Trump accused Daniels of lying about their alleged relationship and her claims that she was threatened by an unidentified man after agreeing to reveal the details of their tryst.

 

TRUMP45: CLAIMS POLITICAL PERSECUTION - Here is a statement from former president Donald J. Trump of Florida (Howey Politics Indiana): "This investigation is a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country, whether it was the never ending $32 million Mueller hoax, which already investigated everything that could possibly be investigated, “Russia Russia Russia,” where there was a finding of “No Collusion,” or two ridiculous “Crazy Nancy” inspired impeachment attempts where I was found NOT GUILTY. It just never ends! So now, for more than two years, New York City has been looking at almost every transaction I’ve ever done, including seeking tax returns which were done by among the biggest and most prestigious law and accounting firms in the U.S. The Tea Party was treated far better by the IRS than Donald Trump. The Supreme Court never should have let this “fishing expedition” happen, but they did. This is something which has never happened to a President before, it is all Democrat-inspired in a totally Democrat location, New York City and State, completely controlled and dominated by a heavily reported enemy of mine, Governor Andrew Cuomo."

 

TRUMP45: DOMINION SUES PILLOW GUY FOR $1.3B - One of the largest makers of voting machines in the U.S. on Monday sued a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump, alleging that the businessman had defamed the company with false accusations that it had rigged the 2020 election for President Biden (Wall Street Journal). Dominion Voting Systems sued Mike Lindell, chief executive of Minnesota-based MyPillow Inc., and his company in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking more than $1.3 billion in damages. In its complaint, the company cites a number of statements made by Mr. Lindell, including in media appearances, social-media posts, and a two-hour film claiming to prove widespread election fraud. Mr. Lindell said he helped produce the film, which he released online in early February.

 

AUTOS: CHEROKEE TRIBE OBJECTS TO JEEP BRAND -  It is time for Jeep to stop using the Cherokee Nation’s name on its Cherokee and Grand Cherokee SUVs, the chief of the Oklahoma-based tribe said (AP). Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr. said in a statement first reported by Car & Driver magazine that he believes corporations and sports teams should stop using Native American names, images and mascots as nicknames or on their products. “I’m sure this comes from a place that is well-intended, but it does not honor us by having our name plastered on the side of a car,” Hoskin said. Kristin Starnes, a spokeswoman for Jeep’s parent company, Amsterdam-based Stellantis, said in a statement that the vehicle name was carefully selected “and nurtured over the years to honor and celebrate Native American people for their nobility, prowess and pride.” She didn’t say whether the company was considering renaming the vehicles and didn’t immediately reply to an email requesting that information.

 

NEW JERSEY: MARIJUANA LEGALIZED - Marijuana is officially legal in New Jersey (New York Post). Following three years of failed legislative attempts, tax negotiations and protracted legal battles, Gov. Phil Murphy signed three bills Monday that legalize up to six ounces of recreational pot in the Garden State, NJ.com reported. “As of this moment, New Jersey’s broken and indefensible marijuana laws, which permanently stained the records of many residents and short-circuited their futures, and which disproportionately hurt communities of color and failed the meaning of justice at every level, social or otherwise — are no more,” Murphy said during an afternoon briefing in Trenton before signing the bills.

 

Local

 

INDIANAPOLIS: 11 INMATES INJURED IN JAIL POWER OUTAGE - At least 11 inmates were injured at Marion County Jail II in downtown Indianapolis early Monday after the power went out, law enforcement officials said (IndyStar). Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal said deputies responded to the jail at 3:38 a.m. after Indianapolis Power & Light disconnected a power in the line to the facility "to deal with the ice.” The jail's generator — which is checked weekly — failed to turn on, and the facility was left in the dark for about 10 minutes. During that time, Forestal said at least eight inmates suffered minor injuries from a fight that broke out in the dark. Some inmates suffered soft-tissue wounds, and at least one broke a bone. Forestal said officers "believe the broken bones were from a fall — somebody walking around in the dark.”

 

INDIANAPOLIS: CITY TO SPEND $190M ON FACILITIES - The city of Indianapolis plans to spend $190 million on multiple infrastructure and community-revitalization projects, including a new family services center, forensics lab and improvements to four local parks, it announced Monday afternoon (IBJ). Each project will range from $7 million to as much as $40 million, with funding coming from bonds tied to an expiring pension levy. The projects include four local parks and a handful of aging structures that house city and county functions. Specifics of each project are expected to be shared during a meeting of the Indianapolis City-County Council’s administration and finance committee later Monday.

 

INDIANAPOLIS: COUNCIL BACKS VACCINE FOR TEACHERS -  The Indianapolis City-County Council tonight heard two Special Resolutions calling on policy makers to equitably prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for bus drivers, teachers, and other essential school staff as soon as Indiana’s vaccine supply permits. Proposals 94 and 108, which call for prioritizing vaccinations for teachers and school staff and IndyGo bus drivers, respectively, were both adopted by the full Council (Howey Politics Indiana). “Teachers and school staff have faced enormous personal risks to get in-person education going again,” said Councillor Crista Carlino, who cosponsored Proposal 94, “and more than 12,000 Indiana educators and school personnel have tested positive for COVID-19. Getting back to in-person instruction full-time is critically important to our economy and to our local families, which means we need to do everything we can to protect our teachers and staff.”

 

CHESTERTON: NEW PD CHIEF RESIGNS OVER OUT-OF-TOWN INCIDENT — Town officials are mum on the details behind the interim police chief's sudden resignation (NWI Times). The resignation of interim chief Nick Brown comes days after town officials reportedly became aware of an "out-of-state" incident involving Brown that occurred several years ago, according to Kevin Nevers, town spokesman. Late in the day on Monday, Feb. 15, town officials were made aware of an alleged incident out-of-state, and the town attorney was contacted, Nevers said. Brown resigned Thursday, Feb. 18, as chief, but continues to remain employed by the department as a corporal, Nevers said. The required 48-hour advanced public notice for a joint executive session between the police commission and the town council was posted the following day, Feb. 16, and an executive session took place, Nevers said.

 

LaPORTE COUNTY: FAIR CANCELS WALLEN CONCERT - The LaPorte County Fair Board on Monday announced that the July 14 Morgan Wallen concert has been canceled (WSBT-TV). According to a Facebook post, the fair board chose to cancel after a lengthy review of options and conversations with many community leaders. This follows the singer's use of a racial slur on January 31. Full refunds will be given to those who purchased tickets.

 

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY: MASK ORDER RULED UNENFORCEABLE - A judge has ruled against the St. Joseph County Health Department’s mask order, but the ruling has no effect on current requirements for residents to wear masks in public (Mazurek, South Bend Tribune). The ruling brings to an end a lawsuit filed by self-described handyman John Goetz, claiming the health department’s mask order was illegal, as Indiana law does not give county health departments the power to order anyone to wear a mask. The mask requirement stays in effect, though, because the St. Joseph County Council passed its own ordinance in November. The county’s “mask mandate” requires a face covering be worn in “enclosed public spaces” when an area of 6 feet distance cannot be maintained. The order also requires businesses to provide hand sanitizer to customers. Marshall Circuit Court Judge Curtis Palmer issued the ruling Thursday, requiring the health department to acknowledge its original order was unenforceable.