State Rep. Vernon Smith

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, in photo from a 2019 House session, was speaking about his experience with racism during last Thursday’s Indiana House session when some legislators walked out.

INDIANAPOLIS—Starting the session Monday, Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Fishers, addressed the booing and jeering that Black legislators received from lawmakers on Thursday while they were trying to speak on House Bill 1367 on school dis-annexation.

“I am committed today to increase focus on maintaining decorum, civility and professionalism in this institution that this body deserves and the people we serve deserve, both inside this chamber and outside of it,” Huston said.

Huston recited rules of decorum for when a member is speaking.

As stated in the Rights and Duties of the House Rules on decorum, “Any member desiring to speak in debate or to deliver any matter to the House, shall rise and respectfully address ‘Mr. Speaker,’ but shall not proceed until recognized by the Speaker. Comments shall be confined to the question under consideration, shall avoid personality, and shall not impeach the motive of any member’s vote or argument.”

During the session last Thursday, while Black legislators were celebrating Black History Month by wearing traditional African grab, some of the House members walked out of the conference room in protest when Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, were speaking about their experience of racism. Some lawmakers booed loudly and started hallway altercations.

Huston said he understands when members need to stretch or go to the bathroom, but he expects members to sit and listen with respect.

“Let’s all remember to listen and re-commit to learning from one another to serve all our constituents,” Huston said. “Important and tough conversations need to happen, including those about race in America.”

Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, encouraged all legislators to get to know each other.

“We agreed that we want to see better decorum and respect for our fellow members, and let’s all agree, for the sake of the institution, let’s be better than last week,” GiaQuinta said.

Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond, issued a statement on Friday saying there needs to be empathy at the Statehouse.

“We recognized discriminatory undertones in the proposed legislation, and we spoke of our own experiences and perspectives. That is all we can do; we cannot speak from somebody else’s perspective. I have only walked in my own shoes. Each legislator has only walked in their own shoes,” Jackson said. “So we have to listen to each other because how else are we supposed to have true discussion on the affairs of our state?”

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus plans to hold a news conference Tuesday morning to discuss the response to the behavior last week.

Alexa Shrake is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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