Leading the list of bills passed by the Indiana General Assembly and quickly signed into law six weeks ago by Gov. Eric Holcomb was Senate Bill 1, granting civil immunity to businesses for COVID-19-related lawsuits. The rush to protect the business community took priority over all other needs, even without evidence of pending litigation.
Hoosier Action, a statewide community organization advocating for working Hoosiers, talked to more than 100,000 Indiana residents over the past year, according to Kate Hess Pace, the group's executive director. The conversations happened in every state Senate district.
“As the most devastating public health crisis of our lives ravaged our communities, Indiana state legislators passed only a single COVID-19-related law: one that ensured corporations would not be held liable if they spread a deadly disease,” she wrote in an op-ed. “In the thousands of conversations we have had with Hoosiers – from small business owners to single moms to clergy – not one person mentioned liability reform as a top priority.”
What did they mention? The need for mental health services. Help for housing costs after eviction. Loss of income after schools closed and moms quit their jobs to stay home.
“No real effort has been made to increase public health, addiction services or mental health spending, but laws have moved forward to increase the profits of big out-of-state landlords, polluting industries and irresponsible employers,” Pace wrote. “In February, the Indiana General Assembly overturned the 2020 veto of a law which strips away protections for Hoosier renters and codifies seven new ways to make Hoosiers homeless. In March, (legislative leaders) announced they plan to end the session early.”
Hoosier Action held a Statehouse rally on March 23, the one-year anniversary of the state shutdown, to call attention to statistics and needs highlighted in its new COVID-19 report. Indiana is the 13th most lethal state for virus mortality, according to the report, and ranks as third-worst in the nation for maternal mortality, even as lawmakers moved along a gutted pregnancy accommodations bill.
Citing information from the state's own Family and Social Services Administration, the report points to the 25,000 Hoosiers who completed a mental health self-assessment as of January. More than three-quarters reported symptoms of mental health disorders. But the House Republican budget proposal – after a year of COVID-19 struggles – does not increase funding for mental health or addiction services.
“The suffering endured by Hoosiers this past year was not inevitable and it does not have to be a blueprint for the future of Indiana,” Pace wrote.
Time is running out for lawmakers to acknowledge the pain and loss of the past year and pass a budget that serves not the contrived needs of the business community, but the very real needs of Hoosiers statewide. The clock is ticking.