Lawmakers override Governor Holcomb’s veto of emergency powers bill

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

Legislators have overridden Governor Holcomb’s veto of a bill allowing them to call themselves back into session in an emergency.

The bill would allow the 16-member Legislative Council to bring legislators back to review a governor’s actions under a state of emergency. Last year, a statewide lockdown due to the accelerating coronavirus pandemic began less than two weeks after legislators adjourned for the year — the General Assembly didn’t return to the statehouse for eight months.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says the bill’s not a criticism of Holcomb. He says the bill is meant to ensure the calendar doesn’t deny legislators a voice in a future emergency, with a governor whose actions legislators don’t agree with. But LaGrange Senator Sue Glick charges the administration failed to communicate with legislators about months of pandemic actions.

Holcomb contends the bill is unconstitutional. He says Indiana’s constitution makes clear that only the governor can call the legislature back to work outside of its regularly scheduled session. Holcomb’s veto message last week warned the bill will create uncertainty in the middle of a not-yet-finished pandemic. Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) say the governor still holds, in Huston’s words, “the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority” of Indiana’s emergency power and can still exercise it.

Holcomb has hinted at a possible court challenge to the bill.

The bill reversed the usual party lines at the statehouse, with House and Senate Democrats unanimously supporting the Republican governor. Senate Republicans passed the bill on a party-line vote, while four House Republicans joined Democrats in voting no. At least three of those four opposed the bill because they felt it should have gone further.

Legislators have passed another bill prohibiting any emergency restrictions on worship services. Holcomb hasn’t said yet whether he’ll sign or veto that bill.

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