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Indiana House leader focused on aiding small business in COVID-19 aftermath
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Indiana House leader focused on aiding small business in COVID-19 aftermath

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The leader of the Indiana House is promising Hoosier small business owners the General Assembly will prioritize their needs during the 2021 legislative session, as part of a broader effort to reignite the state's economy following COVID-19.

House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, recently told Indiana members of the National Federation of Independent Business that protecting and strengthening small business will be a key focus for House Republicans when lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January.

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"You had something come at you that you could never plan for," Huston said. "How can we be good partners at helping to restore your businesses?"

He said first on the list is permanently eliminating the myriad state rules and regulations that were temporarily waived due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"It would be a tragedy, and a shame, if they all returned," Huston said.

"We want to make sure we take this as an opportunity for how we streamline, how we make it easier for entrepreneurs, how we make it easier for businesses to work in times where they just cannot have additional costs."

Huston believes the state also has an obligation to clarify business liability issues related to COVID-19 if the federal government is unable, or unwilling, to enact nationwide liability protections for businesses.

"If they don't take care of it, we have to take care of it," Huston said. "This will be if not the biggest hindrance to the economy opening up, it will be one of them. We can't have business owners being afraid to employ people ... or open their businesses because of liability concerns."

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"I am totally confident in the employer, but it will paralyze the economy long-term moving forward if we end up with everybody in a form of a class-action lawsuit."

Huston explained both eliminating regulations and limiting liability are necessary steps in the "healing of our economy," along with reconsidering how state government works in light of sharply reduced tax revenue due to COVID-19 prevention measures.

"We have to reinvent government," Huston said. "That means the 'nice to haves' are gone and you're back to the 'have to haves.'"

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"As a guy who really believes in small government, and who really believes in the fact of making sure dollars stay in the hands of individuals, I'm OK with that. This gives us an opportunity to reinvent government to focus on the things that really matter."

He said that includes education, transportation and public health, with everything else potentially on the table for cuts or reforms.

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Even the appropriations in the Huston-crafted 2021 state budget, which takes effect July 1, 2020, now are "really out-of-date and obsolete" due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

"We'll use it as a guideline, but obviously the world changed and we need to change with it."

Huston also refused to rule out considering major policy changes that have struggled to find support at the Statehouse in prior legislative sessions, including permitting Illinois-style video gaming terminals in Indiana bars and social clubs.

"Like anything else, stuff that used to be off the table is back on the table, and everything will be given consideration," Huston said.

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The speaker, who succeeded retiring House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, just days before Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued his first COVID-19 stay-at-home order, said he doubts any subsequent return of the virus will trigger a similar statewide response.

"We can't go through this again. We can't do this again," Huston said. "... We're going to have to manage it more in a containment mode, and the containment mode feels a lot more local than any statewide policies."

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