Cook: Helping local governments better serve you

Posted by: Andi Sommers  | Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Whether it's city council, a school board or the local courtroom, these government bodies are closest to Hoosiers and can have the greatest impact on our daily lives. As a state representative, I work closely with our local leaders to identify areas we can streamline and improve government processes, and enhance services for constituents. Given the significant strain the pandemic put on local governments and our courts, a couple of important issues were brought to my attention and resulted in two new laws set to take effect on July 1.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many local government units like town, city and county boards did not meet in-person and instead held virtual public meetings to slow the spread of the virus. These online meetings became possible after Gov. Eric Holcomb issued an executive order in the spring of 2020 allowing local units to do business online. Many local units did notice an increase in public input during this time because meetings were held virtually. Since the governor's order will expire, I authored legislation giving local governments the option to develop their own policies to allow virtual participation, which could include allowing the public to testify electronically. Under this new law, the public and the media will still have access to these meetings whether they are held in person or not.

While this law provides local governments with some flexibility with how they conduct business, I do believe it's important for our local leaders to meet in-person. This is why the law requires all members to be physically present when discussing certain issues like taxation and the budget. It also only allows a certain number of officials to be present electronically each meeting unless Indiana is under a state of emergency.

Like other government buildings, courtrooms were also closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a significant backlog of cases. To help ease officials' workloads, communities are turning to retired judges to temporarily serve on the bench. However, there is concern for these judges' safety as many of these cases involve violent criminals, which could put officials at risk of violence or becoming a victim of retaliation. Under current law, only active judges are permitted to carry a gun on court grounds, excluding retired judges. In order to bring retired judicial officers in line with active judges and provide them with more protection, I authored a new law allowing retired judges to carry a firearm while they are serving on the bench.

I appreciate the feedback and input from our local officials on issues impacting them, and I'm encouraged by the passage of these laws this session. As your state representative, I remain focused on improving and streamlining government services at all levels. If you have questions about this legislation or have any input, feel free to reach out to my office at H32@iga.in.gov.

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State Rep. Tony Cook (R-Cicero) represents House District 32, which includes all of Tipton County

and portions of Hamilton, Madison, Delaware, Howard and Grant counties.

Click here to download a high-resolution photo.