State lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to potentially hold parts of the legislative session outside the Indiana Statehouse because of health concerns during the pandemic.
The Legislative Continuity Committee on Wednesday voted to recommend that staff begin to equip several rooms in Indiana Government Center South for the Indiana House to meet there for the 2021 session, which starts in January.
According to plans shared with the committee on Wednesday, the 50 members of the Indiana Senate will be able to spread out in its existing chamber by utilizing the gallery, which is usually reserved for the public, and a seating area typically reserved for media.
But lawmakers are considering moving the 100 House members to three conference rooms that can be combined into one in the Government Center South building, 302 W. Washington St., which is adjacent to the Statehouse.
This setup would allow all of the representatives to have desks. If they spread out in the existing House chamber, only 58 members would be able to sit at the desks. The remaining lawmakers would be seated in other areas normally used by the public and the media.
The government building also includes several other conference rooms and an auditorium that could be used for socially-distanced legislative committee meetings.
House staff also presented to the Legislative Continuity Committee the possibility of using the Indiana Convention Center for the session, but the General Assembly would have to pay rent to use that space, while the government center rooms would be rent-free.
Adam Brown, director of the Office of Code Revision for the Legislative Services Agency, said it will take 10 to 12 weeks to prepare to use the government center rooms for the session, because new technology needs to be purchased and security systems put in place.
Brown said using the government center could still cost about $250,000 to $300,000, because iPad minis would need to be purchased for lawmakers for casting votes, and other audio and visual equipment would need to be installed.
“Those costs are based on if you plan to use those rooms in the same way that you use rooms in the Statehouse,” Brown said.
The committee voted 4-1 to recommend that staff move forward as if the government center will have to be used for the session.
“We can move back here in a day, but we can’t move there in a day,” committee chair Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said.
State Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, said he voted against it because of budget concerns.
“I can’t support that at this time,” Garten said.
A legislative personnel committee is also expected to sign off on the plan.