Indiana Republicans differ over Gov. Holcomb's COVID-19 powers

Holcomb this past week signed an executive order extending the state’s health emergency and mask mandate until March 1, an action he took three days after a Republican House committee chairman took action on a bill to broadly limit such public health orders and questioned the effectiveness of face mask in preventing COVID-19 spread.

Posted: Jan 31, 2021 12:45 PM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana is nearing a year under the coronavirus public health emergency issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb as some of his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature aren’t letting up on attempts to rein in the authority he’s used to impose mask rules and restrictions on businesses and crowds.

Holcomb this past week signed an executive order extending the state’s health emergency and mask mandate until March 1, an action he took three days after a Republican House committee chairman took action on a bill to broadly limit such public health orders and questioned the effectiveness of face mask in preventing COVID-19 spread.


AP FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2020 file photo, Gov. Eric Holcomb wears a mask in Kokomo, Ind.

Republican legislative leaders have kept their distance from that proposal, while saying they expect lawmakers to give themselves greater oversight of long-lasting use of the governor’s emergency powers following months of criticism from some conservatives of Holcomb’s steps and government intrusion on personal freedom.

Governors across the country are facing similar pushbacks and Holcomb says he doesn’t want to give up the authority to act quickly.

“What I don’t want to do is sacrifice any of the approaches that we’ve taken, that have gotten us to this day,” Holcomb said. “Here, we are trending in the right direction. ... I almost grieve at the deniers and defiers because that just means everyone else has to do more or stand by and watch.”

The coronavirus has killed nearly 10,000 people in Indiana, with almost 60% of those deaths in the past three months during the state’s most lethal surge, according to state health department statistics.

Holcomb, however, is further easing restrictions on crowd sizes as the state’s pace of new infections, hospitalizations and deaths has dropped since peaking in early December.

The greatest rebuff toward Holcomb since the legislative session started in early January came with Republican Rep. Bob Morris of Fort Wayne adding provisions to a bill that would prohibit state or local health orders imposing limits on the number of customers allowed inside a business or restricting medical services that hospitals could provide, along with blocking restrictions on religious services or private schools.

Morris, chairman of the House commerce committee, argued the orders had unfairly hurt small businesses while large chain stores operated freely and wrongly targeted religious services, including attendance limits for funerals and weddings — even though Holcomb lifted restrictions on religious services in May

“How long are we going to limit churches and capacities and how people worship?” Morris said. “How long does it go on until no one is going to church because our government’s restricted what goes on there?”

Democratic Rep. Rita Fleming, a physician from Jeffersonville, maintained during the committee meeting that it wasn’t wise to roll back coronavirus safeguards, including mask wearing and distancing.

Morris pushed back on that argument.

“In reality, we really aren’t sure if masks work, correct?” Morris asked.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston, in his first year in the top legislative position, wouldn’t directly criticize Morris, while saying he was grateful for the work of health officials throughout the pandemic.

“I’ve been clear on my encouragement to wearing masks,” Huston said. “It seems the vast, vast, vast majority of the scientific and medical community agree that wearing masks are important and I will stand by those.”

Discontent over Holcomb’s executive orders fueled Libertarian Donald Rainwater’s campaign for governor last year.

Holcomb easily won reelection, but Rainwater also finished ahead of Democratic candidate Woody Myers in about a third of Indiana’s 92 counties — in rural areas whose legislators pack the large GOP majorities in the House and Senate.

The Senate, meanwhile, is advancing a bill that would designate religious activities as essential services and prohibit any restrictions on them greater than essential businesses, along with another allowing the public to appeal local health orders to county or city elected boards.

Legislative leaders say there are certain lawmakers will end up with more say in future long-term emergencies.

A bill sponsored by House Majority Leader Matt Lehman of Berne would require the General Assembly to be called into session for an extension of a governor’s emergency order beyond 60 days, but doesn’t limit any current authority or require lawmakers to endorse the orders.

Huston said he believed Lehman was “really working to find the right spot” for legislators to have their say.

“Legislative bodies aren’t going to be able to manage crises as flexibly, as easily as the executive bodies,” Huston said. “Governor Holcomb has just done an outstanding job and I couldn’t be more supportive of the job he’s done.”

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1007681

Reported Deaths: 16470
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1355212121
Lake664101166
Allen57993801
Hamilton46350465
St. Joseph44397615
Elkhart35949510
Vanderburgh32251480
Tippecanoe27933260
Johnson25107445
Hendricks23897359
Porter22929365
Madison18748409
Clark18557252
Vigo17479303
Monroe15263200
LaPorte15173250
Delaware15073263
Howard14748290
Kosciusko12348148
Hancock11728176
Bartholomew11639180
Warrick11292189
Floyd11108215
Wayne10986253
Grant10082220
Morgan9472176
Boone8926115
Dubois8271131
Henry8229152
Dearborn822393
Noble8031106
Marshall7939135
Cass7546121
Lawrence7457171
Shelby7189119
Jackson698289
Gibson6597115
Harrison649192
Knox6421106
Huntington6395100
DeKalb632399
Montgomery6264111
Miami593398
Putnam581278
Clinton576171
Whitley565755
Steuben562576
Wabash5332104
Jasper532079
Jefferson511297
Ripley500586
Adams482576
Daviess4677114
Scott438974
Greene425196
Wells424888
Clay423360
White418764
Decatur4169102
Fayette406587
Jennings387361
Posey376644
Washington359151
LaGrange359078
Randolph3452100
Spencer340243
Fountain335760
Sullivan329452
Starke317171
Owen314771
Fulton312667
Orange293664
Jay284645
Franklin265643
Perry265452
Rush262432
Carroll261934
Vermillion258654
Parke231426
Pike229243
Tipton228159
Blackford193142
Pulaski183757
Crawford159823
Newton158348
Benton150617
Brown146747
Martin138719
Switzerland135011
Warren121116
Union107016
Ohio84613
Unassigned0540

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1519304

Reported Deaths: 23955
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1642651696
Cuyahoga1464072459
Hamilton1053661431
Montgomery740661279
Summit617841111
Lucas56338917
Butler51580718
Stark466811064
Lorain35628585
Warren32836377
Mahoning30787693
Clermont28193330
Lake27063448
Delaware24208164
Licking23939294
Trumbull22885561
Fairfield22395247
Greene22350326
Medina22047313
Clark19863354
Richland18586292
Portage17978252
Wood17454224
Allen16001279
Miami15582306
Muskingum14831185
Columbiana14080274
Wayne13791271
Tuscarawas12724311
Marion11976180
Scioto11469162
Pickaway11373142
Erie10904184
Ross10586203
Lawrence9759153
Ashtabula9741204
Hancock9707155
Belmont9309209
Geauga8965157
Jefferson8567199
Huron8404143
Union819859
Washington8093144
Sandusky7827151
Athens777779
Knox7739144
Darke7689158
Seneca7372145
Ashland6967130
Auglaize679799
Shelby6530115
Brown636491
Crawford6274130
Defiance6218105
Mercer616493
Fulton602896
Highland600499
Madison594578
Guernsey593071
Logan591096
Clinton583793
Preble5720125
Putnam5335110
Williams529288
Perry518363
Champaign513173
Jackson510273
Ottawa488586
Coshocton484683
Morrow458858
Pike434367
Fayette429263
Hardin419480
Gallia418467
Adams417195
Van Wert372382
Henry365372
Holmes3642125
Hocking356782
Wyandot324662
Carroll302365
Paulding280347
Meigs265851
Monroe216254
Noble200347
Morgan194033
Harrison182146
Vinton166625
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 44°
Angola
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34° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 34°
Feels Like: 34°
Huntington
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 44°
Decatur
Cloudy
44° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 44°
Van Wert
Cloudy
50° wxIcon
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Showers on tap for Sunday with the chance of a few thunderstorms.
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