The Journal Gazette
Monday, January 04, 2021 11:01 am

Unease grows with the return of the Indiana General Assembly for the 2021 session

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

For months I have been safely ensconced in my home, doing interviews by phone or Zoom – writing at the breakfast bar with occasional feline interruptions.

I have gone to my office at the Statehouse once or twice a week – perhaps to cover a budget committee meeting or to have an in-person interview. But even on those days I have interacted with very few people – a fellow reporter, the security at the doors, the mailman, a few communications staffers.

All that changes this week when the Indiana General Assembly returns for the 2021 session. And my trepidation grows.

At least once a week someone sends me a story from elsewhere in the country where a state lawmaker has died – often related to a caucus or other meeting of the members.

I have not been homebound the last nine months – I have prioritized safely visiting family and feel fine at restaurants. I wear my mask religiously (I have dozens to match my outfits) and carry hand sanitizer wherever I go. Everyone's comfort level is different.

But the idea of mingling amongst hundreds of state employees, lawmakers, reporters, lobbyists and concerned citizens every day for the next four months has me out of sorts. On Organization Day in November, a number of people in the Statehouse laughed and chatted without masks even though the building has a rule to require them. I didn't see any staff or security enforcing that rule.

More of that will surely come when committees start meeting again and lawmakers get down to the business of the state. I hope everyone takes safety seriously and realizes an outbreak could hobble Indiana.

To be fair, even the most conscientious can get the virus. It is invisible and lingers on surfaces. Sharing bathrooms with dozens of strangers in a public building doesn't help my concern.

And mixed with this is the desire to do my job to the best of my ability. To explain a bill often means sitting with a lawmaker or staffer and going through its intricacies. There will be some that don't wear a mask. Do I avoid them as a rule? Or does that simply give them a free pass?

I usually feel so comfortable when the legislature reconvenes – back in my element. After all, this year will be my 22nd regular session. But none of that excitement is brewing this year. None of that adrenaline.

Just unease.

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