The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 16, 2022 1:00 am

Several legislators absent at sessions

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

The Indiana General Assembly didn't get through the first two weeks unscathed while operating without any COVID-19 precautions.

Rumors were rampant that numerous legislators were missing because they tested positive. Neither the House nor Senate would confirm how many lawmakers specifically were gone because of COVID-19, but about 10 missed repeated session days.

“We encourage and people have, if you don't feel well, stay home,” House Speaker Todd Huston said.

Rep. Dennis Zent, R-Angola, confirmed his positive test to The Journal Gazette while other members didn't respond to requests.

Zent said he felt a little under the weather and his temperature went up. Due to having several comorbidities – including a heart condition – he took a test and was positive.

“I feel like I have a bit of a head cold” but didn't want to take a chance and return too soon. He missed the whole week and hopes to return Wednesday.

When he does come back, Zent said, he will have the trifecta – the vaccine, booster and natural immunity.

One Democrat who missed the week – South Bend Rep. Ryan Dvorak – said he was out for a previous engagement and does not have COVID-19.

Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, was exposed to COVID-19 and missed session several days due to isolating.

Huston said he got a “good chuckle” when he started receiving numerous texts saying he had COVID-19.

“It was news to me. Out of an abundance of caution, ... because I had no symptoms, I did test and I felt great,” he said.

The test was negative.

Setting the tone

The newly elected Fort Wayne City Council vice president addressed questions he has received about the Democrats' support of a Republican council president.

Democratic Councilman Glynn Hines nominated Republican Jason Arp for council president. With the four Democratic members' support, Arp won the leadership position over Republican Russ Jehl, who was supported by the rest of the council's Republicans. Hines was then approved as vice president after being nominated by Arp.

Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine and Jehl criticized Arp, with Shine calling Arp's and the Democrats' partnership “disingenuous.”

Hines was the council's acting president Tuesday in Arp's absence.

During closing comments, Hines said he has pushed for bipartisan leadership in his more than 22 years on the council.

“I think it looks rather unique when you have, particularly now that it's 5-4, you have two parties that are very close to each other in philosophy,” Hines said. “There's some outliers on both ends, but for the most part, we agree on a lot of the decisions.”

Republican Councilman Paul Ensley was president last year, and Hines said he and the Democrats were impressed with how well Ensley did in that position “based on some of the ways that he had voted.” Arp deserves the same chance, Hines said.

“We're going to disagree on controversial issues,” Hines said. “Left, I'm about as liberal and progressive as it gets, and well, we know what Jason is.”

Hines said he hopes the leadership change will set the tone for a productive year with bipartisanship in all decisions.

Judy honored

The state's three Easterseals affiliates honored six state leaders as Outstanding Advocates for People with Disabilities as part of Legislator Appreciation Lunch on Tuesday.

Leaders from Easterseals Crossroads, Easterseals Northern Indiana and Easterseals Rehabilitation Center in Evansville united to present the awards.

Fort Wayne Republican Rep. Chris Judy was honored “for his consistent willingness to listen to the needs of people with disabilities and for his role in increasing state funding for direct support professional wages as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.”

Devan Filchak of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

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