Legislators discuss bills concerning COVIDJanuary 19, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
The Indiana General Assembly is working on several bills in response to COVID-19’s ramifications on the state.
State Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper, and State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, met with the press Saturday to discuss those and the work they have been doing at the Statehouse since the session started Jan. 4.
Normally these kinds of legislative breakfasts would be open to the public. Because of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines, the first breakfast of this session was closed to the public.
The meeting, which was held in the Jasper Chamber of Commerce’s conference room, was taped by local television station WJTS TV. It will air at 8 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Wednesday.
One major bill addresses immunity from civil claims concerning the virus. Senate Bill 1, which Messmer is authoring, will give individuals and organizations civil immunity from liability claims of a person claiming to have been exposed to COVID-19 at that organization or place of business.
“This will be a high-priority bill for us going through the General Assembly,” Messmer said.
This bill would not cover situations of negligence on the part of the organization or individual that were done knowingly or on purpose, he reiterated.
SB1 was heard last week and passed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. Another Senate bill, Senate Bill 4, addresses similar matters for the health care industry.
Lindauer is proposing House Bill 1347, which deals with telehealth.
“It would allow increased access to health care for people in rural parts of the state,” he said. “Telehealth has always been an issue that was important to me, being in rural Indiana. COVID really brought this issue home and put it on the forefront of everybody’s mind.”
Through the bill, Lindauer hopes that telehealth services will be available to more people through the different practices.
“What this bill does is it’s going to hopefully provide a uniform definition of what telehealth is, who can practice telehealth,” Lindauer said. “My goal here is to say in the bill that if you are operating within your scope of practice, per the state of Indiana, you can practice telehealth.”
The bill has been sent to the House Public Health Committee. A bill must be heard and passed by a committee before it can be considered by the full chamber.
Senate Bill 2 will make sure that schools that had to shift to virtual learning this school year will still get their full funding.
The current state law says brick-and-mortar schools get 100% funding and virtual schools get 85% funding. But brick-and-mortar schools have had to transition and utilize virtual learning, Messmer said. The State Board of Education enacted an emergency rule to allow the school to get 100% funding for the fall semester.
“We need to fix that statutorily,” Messmer said. “As long as that student was was not a virtual student within that brick-and-mortar system before, they will be able to get 100% funding even if they have to do a good chunk of their learning virtually.”
Senate Bill 5 would give people a method to appeal an order or fine from an emergency order with their county legislative board, like the Dubois County Commissioners in this county.
“Currently, there is no mechanism for anyone to appeal,” Messmer said.
Legislators listed other bills that they discussed with The Herald in December. But a new one on Lindauer’s list is House Bill 1370, which will protect the right to free speech at public colleges.
“If you (colleges) are taking state dollars, this is making sure that students (at that college) have the ability to openly protest without any repercussions or being shut down,” he said. “There are criteria, of course, like so long as you are not inciting violence.”
Lindauer said the bill is not in response to a specific incident in the state. “It’s more of a nationwide thing we’ve seen happen,” he said. “There’s been some concern that certain points of view may be stifled or disallowed by certain universities. So this is to make sure those things are not happening and everybody is able to practice free speech no matter what your point of view is.”
The other two legislators who represent Dubois County, State Sen. Erin Houchin, R-Salem, and State Rep. Steve Bartels, R-Eckerty, were not able to attend Saturday’s meeting.
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