Wednesday, May 5, 2021

2021 Indiana Legislative Session

Last fall as MHC’s voter registration efforts wrapped up, a team of Hub community members and staff turned our attention to the upcoming Indiana legislative session, and the power it has to impact Hoosiers’ lives. With the session now at its end, team members made space to reflect on this year’s work and challenges, as well as the hopes we have moving forward. 

As with past years, the work began with the team members collectively picking bills to support based on shared priorities, MHC’s values, and relationships with community partners across the state. This session we chose to work on four bills; We supported legislation that would have ensured reasonable pregnancy accommodations in the workplace, preventing pregnant Hoosiers from having to choose between their jobs and their health. We supported a bill to raise the minimum wage, for both hourly and tipped-wage workers. We supported legislation that would have reformed redistricting rules and prevented partisan gerrymandering. And we supported a bill that would have protected Hoosiers from predatory lending by capping the annual percentage rate on small loans. 

Our legislative work, like everything else in the past year, was shaped by COVID-19. Instead of monthly, open Hub Dinners in person, we met as a small team bi-weekly over Zoom. Instead of chatting with folks in the pantry, we text-banked and shared information online & through the grocery line. And instead of going up to Indy to offer testimony in person, we sent letters to legislators, reaching out by mail and email to share our perspectives.  Though we felt connected to each other through these meetings and recognized the power of working together, the overall process felt more distanced and difficult than past years. We both felt less connected with each other than when sitting down over a meal, and felt that it was more difficult to connect with legislators. In the words of one team member, “it felt like there was a really tough wall sitting up there in Indy,” - one that we couldn’t breach through all the new barriers COVID created. 

Changes from COVID also made the frenzied pace of the legislature and the amount of deeply important legislation moving through the Statehouse difficult for us to keep up with. Team members faced a collective frustration that there was so much happening this session beyond what we were able to look at - pieces of legislation we would have supported with more energy and ones we deeply opposed - but our capacity was more limited this year. 

Other challenges from the session felt familiar to past years. For one, the feeling that legislators weren’t listening to the needs of community members & constituents, even when we worked together and with community partners, which led to a desire for legislators that community members felt represented them more fully. We saw that racism is still deeply embedded in our legislative system, as Black legislators were booed on the chamber floor while speaking about their experience of discrimination. We saw the continued deep power imbalances that are built into legislative structures, like bills languishing in committee without being brought for hearings because of committee chairs failing to call them forward. Team members noted legislative priorities that felt hurtfully amiss, like passing legislation to confirm popcorn as the official state snack, while failing to consider and pass bills that would have meaningfully helped community members. And overall, a collective sense that like many systems surrounding us, the legislative process of decision making feels deeply disconnected from the people most impacted by those decisions.  Team members worried about this disconnection being replicated again and again, both in our community and across the country. 

Despite these challenges, we found hope as well. In the broken systems we encountered, we saw opportunities for change, and chances to make our community and state a better place for ourselves and our loved ones. In seeing our bills fail to pass this year, we committed to redoubling our efforts next legislative session. And in naming the ways that the past year has disconnected and isolated us, we committed to connecting more deeply with more community members over the next year, in part by restarting monthly Hub Dinners open to all, though still virtual for now. To that end, we invite you to join us every third Tuesday of the next several months for a virtual Hub Dinner, in the hopes that next year at this time we can be reflecting together, but also celebrating new relationships, new shared skills, and maybe even newly passed legislation. 

Monthly Hub Dinner Facebook Event: