Legislators plan to change law that allows Gov. Holcomb to issue emergency orders

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Legislators are planning changes to the law that’s allowed Governor Holcomb to issue emergency orders during the pandemic:

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) both make a point of saying they’re not criticizing Holcomb’s handling of the pandemic — Huston says the governor’s done “a terrific job.” But both say the law which gives the governor sweeping emergency powers didn’t envision a threat that lingers for months and months. They say there will be bills to give legislators more input.

The emergency powers law was passed after World War Two, and has been revised over the years, including after 9/11.

Holcomb says he looks forward to discussing the law, but he warns the governor’s office has to be able to take immediate action without waiting on legislators. He notes dryly there’s no way to ask the virus for a timeout while the General Assembly debates.

Bray agrees the legislative process isn’t set up to allow the immediate response to an emergency, but says there are legitimate concerns about what the legislature’s role should be.

At last month’s one-day Organization Day session, Huston put off action on an attempt by two House Republicans to terminate Indiana’s public health emergency. The law allows the emergency declaration to be extended for 30 days at a time. Holcomb has done so nine times. The current order expires at the end of the year but is expected to be renewed again.

The language of the emergency powers law sets few if any limits on the governor’s authority. There hasn’t even been an attempt to challenge Holcomb’s orders in court until this week, when a Bluffton restaurant shut down for defying capacity limits and a mask order asked a judge to declare those orders invalid.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) says he’ll be interested in the specifics of the bills that emerge, but says it’s not practical to bring legislators back for a special session to address issues requiring immediate action. Senate Minority Leader Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) says he does wish Holcomb had consulted legislators about how to spend Indiana’s share of federal CARES Act money.

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