There was no shortage of strong feelings and hopeful messages on display Thursday at the Indiana Statehouse as legislators began the 2019 Legislative Session in earnest.
Before the lawmakers began their work for the year in the afternoon, the Rotunda was the scene of the 15th Annual Statehouse Prayer Service, organized by Matthew Barnes, volunteer chaplain at the Statehouse.
Many lawmakers and state leaders, including Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and Gov. Eric Holcomb, took part in the service, which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, catered by Chick-fil-A.
“Lord, you've already blessed this state with so much, and I ask you to continue to shine your light on Indiana,” said Holcomb to a hushed crowd.
Upstairs, in the Indiana House of Representatives' chambers, more prayers were on the way as the session began.
After gaveling in the session, House Speaker Brian Bosma invited Dave Rodriguez, senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Fishers, to lead the lawmakers in prayer.
Then, the lawmakers got down to business.
After all was said and done in the 2018 Midterm Elections, Indiana House Republicans retained their supermajority status, and now hold a 67-33 seat majority in the chamber.
This fact was alluded to by Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, as he delivered his first major speech as leader of an Indiana House Democratic Caucus.
“Now, let's be candid: We know how to count. You have the votes to ignore us. You have the raw numerical power to pass legislation that reflects that power. We hope you won't, because regardless of how the votes are divided in this chamber, there are hundreds of thousands of Hoosier citizens who are depending on our Caucus to ensure that their voices are heard,” he said “Majorities come and majorities go. Too many of them, both Democratic and Republican, were short-sighted. Way too often the majority passed legislation simply because they could, regardless of whether it represented sound policy for the state of Indiana.”
GiaQuinta also noted, to applause, that the racially diverse House Democratic caucus was, for the first time in state history, made up of a majority of women.
GiaQuinta then turned his attention to education funding and raising teacher pay, a previously-announced priority for Democrats in the state.
“We should not pass the buck to local districts,” he said. “It's time to act.”
GiaQuinta called education reform “the elephant in the room” and called for greater accountability for voucher, charter, and virtual school programs.
GiaQuinta then turned his attention redistricting reform and the need for Hoosiers to be able to pick their representatives, not the other way around.
In December, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson released the 2018 voter turnout report, which showed the turnout in the midterm elections was higher than it's been in decades. The report showed 51 percent, or 2,308,258, of Indiana’s 4.5 million registered voters cast a vote in the Nov. 6 general election.
During his speech, GiaQuinta called the state's voter turnout figures in the 2018 Midterm Election “embarrassing” for being historic just because they rose above 50 percent.
“Shame on us,” he said.
GiaQuinta concluded by calling for protections for Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions, continued reforms to the troubled Department of Child Services, and the need for hate crimes legislation, as Indiana remains one of only five states without them.
After GiaQuinta finished, Bosma handed the floor over to Matt Lehman, R-Berne, who struck a final, conciliatory note.
“We'll work together to find common ground,” he said. “Beyond here, we're friends [...] We will not ignore you [...] We'll work together when we can. We're going to disagree, we all know that. But, we're going to do it with respect.”