Indiana legislators won’t adjourn when they adjourn

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("Indiana State Capitol Building" by Drew Tarvin, CC BY 2.0)

By law, legislators must finish the session by April 29 — they’re hoping to finish eight days early. But this is the year the General Assembly must do the every-10-years redrawing of congressional and legislative districts, and the Census Bureau is months behind schedule in delivering the population data legislators need in order to do that.

Legislators have inserted a clause into the budget bill for a just-this-once extension of the adjournment deadline to November 15. Legislators still plan to go home in two weeks, but

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says by remaining technically in session, they can move through procedural steps and schedule committee hearings more quickly than if Governor Holcomb called them back for a special session. When the full House and Senate returns to approve the maps, it’ll only take a couple of days.

Huston says legislators won’t receive the extra pay they normally get for being in session until they actually return to the statehouse.

The deadline extension also extends the deadline for making sure the full House and Senate can vote on congressional maps. A state law designed to address partisan stalemates says if congressional maps aren’t complete by adjournment, the task is handed off to a commission of four legislators and an appointee of the governor. Because Republicans control both chambers and the governor’s office, that would reduce Democrats’ already-limited input on the maps to zero.

Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray says he “doesn’t love” the extended session, but says it’s the best option for handling what he and Huston note is an unprecedented situation.

While both Bray and Huston insist redistricting is the only reason for keeping the House and Senate, the change could also address the central theme of this year’s session: legislators’ demand for a greater voice in reviewing Holcomb’s pandemic emergency orders and declarations. Holcomb has promised a veto of a bill allowing legislators to call themselves back into session for that purpose, citing legal opinions that it’s unconstitutional.

Holcomb’s current emergency declaration expires April 30 but could be extended for a 14th time. Holcomb has already lifted most restrictions issued under that declaration, except for a mask requirement in schools and an order to businesses to implement plans for regular employee health screenings and cleaning protocols. Bray doesn’t rule out addressing the emergency order or other issues aside from redistricting, but Huston says it would take “extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary circumstances” to come back before it’s time to deal with maps.

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