The Journal Gazette
Thursday, February 18, 2021 1:30 pm

Tensions flare over school disannexation bill

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Tensions flared Thursday in the Indiana House as accusations of racism flew and two House members had to be separated.

It all started when the chamber heard a South Bend bill on school corporation disannexation that some say would lead to segregation.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, was speaking against the bill when he said it was discrimination. Several Republican members in the room said loudly “no” and “stop.”

Porter – dressed in traditional African garb for Black History Month – became frustrated he wasn’t allowed to speak and left the room.

The debate continued and Rep. Vernon Smith, also in African garb, called the bill racist. A Republican booed several times and some GOP members started leaving the room.

Both Porter and Smith are Black.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston tried to intervene, saying “let the speaker speak.”

Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said “everybody walk out” and he and several GOP members left the room out a back door. Debate continued at the front of the room on the bill.

Next, yelling could be heard from a back hallway by Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville.

Fort Wayne GOP Rep. Bob Morris then closed one of the doors so that people in the room couldn’t see or hear the confrontation.

Eberhart was arguing with Democratic Rep. Vanessa Summers, who is also Black, and called her a name. It was unclear what she said to him first.

Several members were trying to keep the two apart. Eberhart then went out another set of doors and members tried to block Summers from following. Eventually she did and Morris then shoved Eberhart into a men’s bathroom. Summers was walked down another hall by a colleague.

The disannexation bill barely passed 52-43.

Huston then addressed the body, saying he understands these are emotional issues. He asked everyone to show respect and not question the motives of others.

The chamber went to caucus and will be back this afternoon.

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