A legislative committee hearing this week was disrupted when dozens of people who showed up to testify refused to wear masks – which are required in the Statehouse.
Many wore face masks to enter the building, but then removed them while waiting to support a bill offering personal choice as a valid reason to refuse mandatory workplace vaccinations. Their behavior directly violated published Statehouse safety protocols, however witnesses say there was no enforcement.
Dr. Amy Beth Kressel was prepared to testify in opposition of the vaccination bill for Eskenazi Health, but says she left before testifying to avoid waiting in a crowd of people without masks.
“People were allowed not to wear masks and basically drive opposing people away,” Kressel said. “It’s really disturbing and I really do think it’s a problem.”
Taylor Hughes was at the Statehouse to testify as well and expressed disappointment at the situation.
"The open disregard for those rules seen yesterday demonstrates the challenges leaders face in trying to keep elected officials, staff, and the public safe – a challenge business leaders are facing everyday as they prioritize the health of their employees and customers," Hughes said in an email. "At the end of the day, all these anti-mask 'protests' accomplish is to expose others to risk and create barriers to their fellow Hoosiers trying to engage with the legislative process during the COVID-19 pandemic."
In a press conference later Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he worries people will seek to “shut down” or “repel” others who want to contribute to the legislative process “because they want to be safe.”
Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said on Thursday that legislative leaders are working with Capitol Police to fix the issue.
“We intend to make it a safe place where people can feel comfortable to come,” Bray said.
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said legislative leaders, working with state government officials, haven’t decided how to enforce the mask-wearing requirement.
“Every day I’m dealing with an issue that we hadn’t thought of or didn’t think of or has just arisen," Huston said. "So, our teams will work through those issues.”
Republican legislative leaders decided at the start of session not to require lawmakers to wear masks.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Dr. Amy Beth Kressel's name as Dr. Amy Beth Cressel.