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Rep. Jim Lucas hasn’t faced any disciplinary action from legislative leaders for flashing his holstered handgun this week while speaking with high school students advocating for gun control laws at the Statehouse.
Lucas told State Affairs on Thursday that he shouldn’t have opened his suit jacket to show the teenagers his gun but otherwise defended his interaction.
“I had a chance to watch the full video, and he just, simply put, should never have opened his jacket,” Huston told reporters Thursday about Lucas, a Republican from Seymour.
“I told him how I felt and we’ll move forward,” Huston said.
Lucas is among the most vocal advocates of gun rights in the Legislature, having sponsored numerous bills loosening gun restrictions since he was elected to the House in 2012.
The video shows Lucas speaking with students from Burris Laboratory School in Muncie, who were at the Statehouse on Tuesday for advocacy activities organized by Moms Demand Action.
At the 5:50-minute mark in the video, one of the teens says Australia has strict gun laws and hasn’t had a mass shooting in years. Lucas responds, “Those people are dependent upon what their government tells them what they can and can't do. They're not free. They're not truly free if you can’t defend yourself.”
When a student asks Lucas whether he means carrying a gun, he says, “Yes, I’m carrying right now,” and opens his suit jacket for a few seconds to show a holstered gun on his right hip.
One teen then says, “Nothing about someone carrying a gun makes me feel safe. It makes me feel threatened.”
Lucas replies she’s talking about “feelings” while “people who want to kill you don't care about your feelings.”
Legislators and legislative branch staffers are allowed to carry firearms inside the Statehouse under an exemption the General Assembly approved in 2017 to the ban on the public and other state employees from doing so.
Lucas told State Affairs on Thursday that he was “shocked” at the attention the video has generated.
He said he believed his action was “taken out of context” because “it’s a gun issue. That's always a sensitive topic.”
“If I had things to do over again, I would not have opened my coat,” Lucas said. “Obviously, seeing the outcry that this created, whether warranted or unwarranted, I still enjoyed the conversation with the young ladies. There were a lot of great facts that were introduced to them and, hopefully, if I can make just one of them think, in a calm, rational manner, then I will have been successful.”
Asked about his conversations with Republican caucus leaders about his actions, Lucas responded, “Good, good. I mean, it's just one of —”
Lucas then paused for about eight seconds before saying, “Let's just leave it at that.”
Democratic Rep. Sue Errington of Muncie criticized Lucas for making the students “feel unsafe and unwelcome” at the Statehouse.
“As legislators, we should encourage our youth to be involved in the legislative process, not scare them away,” Errington said. “It is unfathomable that these young activists were met with such behavior. I encourage Rep. Lucas to offer an apology to these students and reflect on how he engages with Hoosier students in the future.”
As the video became a widespread discussion topic at the Statehouse, Huston put off action Thursday on two Lucas-sponsored bills for House votes until Monday. One bill would allow police agencies to trade confiscated firearms for new weapons; the other would create a state medal of honor for first responders.
“Today wasn't the best day to take action on those bills,” Huston said. “They're strongly bipartisan. Both those bills went through committee with unanimous support, so today wasn't the best day to take action.”
Senators rejected a proposal Monday to remove strict limitations on what legal research Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters. That means House Bill 1338 could face a full Senate vote on Tuesday with provisions that supporters of the access counselor’s office argue would hamstring its ability to answer questions about …
Indiana doctors performed fewer than four abortions a week during the final three months of 2023, continuing the sharp downturn under the state’s near-total abortion ban.
Doctors reported 46 abortions from October through December, according to the state Department of Health’s latest quarterly report on abortions.
The ban that took effect in August allows abortions only in cases of rape or incest before 10 weeks post-fertilization or to protect the life and health of the mother or because of a lethal fetal anomaly up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also voided the state licenses of all Indiana abortion clinics, allowing abortions only in hospitals or hospital-owned surgery centers.
Of the abortions reported during the fourth quarter of last year, 22 were because of lethal fetal anomalies, 21 were attributed to health risks to the pregnant woman and three were due to rape or incest, according to the state report released last week.
The 46 abortions during the fourth quarter represented a 97% drop from the 1,724 reported during the same three months in 2022 while the abortion ban was blocked by a judge’s order later overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Indiana Right to Life, the state’s most prominent anti-abortion group, hailed the decline but joined criticism of the Department of Health for not releasing individual terminated pregnancy reports as it had done before the ban went into effect.
The agency has said it no longer releases those reports under state law that declares medical records confidential because of more detailed information required from doctors.
“The Indiana Department of Health is blocking public access to terminated pregnancy reports,” Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said in a statement Monday. “This manipulation creates a lack of transparency, making it impossible to verify these numbers are accurate — and that Indiana law is being followed related to abortion activity.”
Abortion-rights supporters have argued that the ban wrongly limits access to health care. They’ve also maintained that abortion care would largely be unavailable outside Indianapolis even in situations meeting the limited exceptions, with the procedure no longer available at abortion clinics.
All but two of the 46 abortions during the reporting period were performed at Indianapolis hospitals, with the most at Riley Health Maternity Tower (21) and Eskenazi Hospital (10). The only hospital-performed abortions outside Indianapolis were one each at Dupont Hospital and Parkview Regional Medical Center, both in Fort Wayne.
The Senate has backed off a proposal that would block lawyers who’ve faced recent serious misconduct sanctions from running for state attorney general. A Senate committee had added a provision to an elections-related bill last week as Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita remains under scrutiny from the state’s attorney disciplinary commission after being reprimanded by …
The scope of what Indiana’s public access counselor could consider in reviewing open government matters would be strictly limited under provisions added to legislation in the closing days of the legislative session.
Amendments that a Senate committee made this week to House Bill 1338 would also reduce the office’s independence by eliminating the four-year term the access counselor has after being appointed by the governor.
The Legislature in 1999 established the access counselor position to review questions from the public, government officials and others about the state’s open meetings and public records laws.
The public access counselor’s office, with two attorneys and one other staff member, issues dozens of advisory opinions each year but has no authority to enforce the access laws or punish violators.
Advocate says amendment ‘guts’ counselor’s authority
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, offered the amendment allowing the access counselor’s advisory opinions to consider only “the public access laws, as plainly written,” and “valid opinions of Indiana courts.”
Freeman, chair of the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee, expressed frustration with Public Access Counselor Luke Britt’s opinions without giving specifics during the Tuesday meeting when the provision was added.
“The public access counselor, it says that he, in this case, shall liberally construe the code,” Freeman said. “He’s issued some opinions that I vehemently disagree with and I think others in our body and in this building vehemently disagree with.”
The amendment “functionally guts” the access counselor’s ability to consider the context of a situation unless it has been directly addressed by the Legislature or court, said Amelia McClure, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
“The code can never contemplate all of the different circumstances that public access concerns are going to arise,” McClure said. “So the public access counselor has to consider new technologies, what location, the circumstances of the conversation in a way that a civil code will never be able to contemplate.”
Britt was appointed access counselor in 2013 by then-Gov. Mike Pence and reappointed by Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017 and 2021.
Britt, whose current term runs until Oct. 31, 2025, declined to comment to State Affairs on Freeman’s amendments. The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply Thursday to a request for comment.
The restrictions on the access counselor’s office were not raised during the first seven weeks of this year’s legislative session and became public only two days before the Senate committee’s deadline to take action.
Public access counselor’s role at issue
Some conservatives criticized an opinion Britt released last fall in which he concluded the Hamilton East Public Library Board in Fishers violated the open meetings law when two board members met with their attorneys at a coffee shop.
That opinion came amid public debate over a push by conservative members of that board to review all youth-section books and move those with “inappropriate” content to adult sections.
The opening section of Indiana’s public records law states it should be “liberally construed to implement this policy and place the burden of proof for the nondisclosure of a public record on the public agency that would deny access to the record.”
Freeman said during the committee meeting that he favored striking the “liberally construed” phrase from the law, but other senators thought that went too far.
The amendment limiting the access counselor’s authority was added to the bill on a 5-3 vote as Democratic Sen. Greg Taylor joined Freeman and other Republicans Mike Bohacek, Cyndi Carrasco and Eric Koch. Republicans Liz Brown and Sue Glick and Democrat Rodney Pol voted against the amendment.
Glick said the restriction on what the access counselor could consider didn’t make sense.
“You’re paying an attorney for their opinion, and now you’re limiting that,” Glick said.
Change would eliminate term of office
Freeman also advocated for an amendment eliminating the access counselor’s four-year term and making the position one that serves “at the pleasure of the governor.”
“When we have a new governor … I believe the governor should be able to pick the person that they’re choosing to serve,” Freeman said. “As any other appointed office, we serve at the privilege of the governor. So I believe this should be no different.”
Those people appointed to lead state departments can typically be removed at the governor’s discretion. However, hundreds of appointments to state boards and other positions, such as the state Election Division’s co-directors, are made for set terms.
McClure, the Hoosier State Press Association’s director, said eliminating the four-year term would take away some of the office’s independence from political concerns.
“That’s important when it’s an advisory opinion that’s interpreting actions of all kinds of different bodies that have all kinds of different political affiliations,” McClure said.
The full bill, which initially focused only on allowing local government boards to establish meeting decorum rules, could be taken up by the full Senate next week. The additions would still also need approval from the House before this year’s legislative session ends by March 14.