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Indiana Democrats on first day of special session: “Where are Republicans?”

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Indiana Democrats on first day of special session: “Where are Republicans?”

Jul 07, 2022 | 7:00 am ET
By Casey Smith
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Indiana Democrats on first day of special session: “Where are Republicans?”
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Indiana Democratic lawmakers gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday, July 6, 2022, on what was supposed to be the first day of a special legislative session. Republicans were nowhere to be found. (Casey Smith/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

Indiana Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday criticized their Republican counterparts, who were absent from the Statehouse on what was supposed to be the first day of a special legislative session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proclamation summoned the General Assembly back to the capital starting Wednesday to trigger a second wave of tax refund payments meant to provide Hoosiers with inflation relief. 

Republican lawmakers delayed their return until July 25, however, which they said would give them more time to craft legislation to further restrict access to abortions, too. A two-week special session could cost about $280,000.

“I yield my calendar because it’s my job to work for Hoosiers,” said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson. “We want to be here today … even if our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle are not.”

Multiple sources confirmed to Indiana Capital Chronicle that House Republicans caucused privately in Indianapolis Wednesday – but not at the Statehouse.

House and Senate members of the minority caucus emphasized urgency for inflation relief, which they maintained should come in the form of a state gas tax suspension through November. 

Republicans have refused to take up the idea. Holcomb has repeatedly said he doesn’t have the authority to suspend gas taxes through his executive powers. But legislators can do so in a special session.

While Democrats said they support the Republican governor’s plan to dip into the state’s growing budget surplus to send $225 in payments to taxpayers, they expressed concern about how long it might take for Hoosiers to see the checks. 

Roughly half of Hoosiers are still waiting for the first $125 refund checks that started going out in May. If the legislature waits until August to green-light the next wave of payments, that could mean many in the state won’t see checks until December, Democrats contend.

Expand rebate

Democrats also argued that more should be done to ensure that all Hoosiers receive the refund.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said that includes the roughly 940,000 adult non-filers in Indiana. Of those, 440,000 are elderly, and an additional 127,000 are those who receive social security benefits. 

“They need the automatic tax refund money just as much as other people need it,” she said.

These Hoosiers pay sales taxes that contribute to the state’s surplus.

Democrat Sen. Shelli Yoder argued the Republican supermajority could pass an inflation relief package “at any time now” and return back to the statehouse before Aug. 14 — when the special session is set to end — to take up abortion-related measures.

“Relief should not be held hostage to the super majority’s unpopular and disorganized policy debate (on abortion),” Yoder said. “It’s so frustrating and tragic for us to watch this and to be sidelined on something like this.”

Abortion matters

Echoing other Democrats, Yoder said a ban on abortion “will be disastrous for our state.” 

Indiana already has “the weakest, most insufficient safety nets in the nation,” she said, and increasing the number of births in the state “would pass the cost of their moral crusade onto already overburdened taxpayers.”

Democrats also said they were uncertain about what exactly Republicans will propose on abortion-related matters, although Democrat Sen. Jean Breaux of Indianapolis said she expects such bills to go through the health committee.

“We do not know what it is, what it looks like, what is contained within it,” she said. “But we are gearing up for what I expect to be a real fight on that topic.”

Holcomb said last week he has “no red lines” on abortion restrictions, saying that  at this point, he expects to sign whatever bill comes across his desk.