Indiana lawmakers plans to curb Gov. Holcomb's emergency power face doubts

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks during a media availability from the Statehouse, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Lawmakers have advanced bills that would curb a governor’s authority to impose emergency restrictions such as mask rules and business closures, although Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and others question whether those proposals written by members of his own party are allowed under the state constitution.

Posted: Mar 7, 2021 11:16 AM

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators remain determined to limit the governor’s executive order power as the state reaches a full year under a public health emergency from the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers have advanced bills that would curb a governor’s authority to impose emergency restrictions such as mask rules and business closures, although Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and others question whether those proposals written by members of his own party are allowed under the state constitution.

The differing proposals passed by the House and Senate would set up ways to either force the governor to call lawmakers into a special session during a long-lasting emergency or give legislative leaders new authority to take such action if the Legislature isn’t currently meeting.

Republican legislative leaders praise Holcomb’s leadership during the pandemic, but the governor has faced conservative discontent over the nearly 60 coronavirus-related executive orders he’s issued beginning with the public health emergency order signed last March 6 — the day Indiana’s first confirmed COVID-19 infection was announced.

Despite more than 12,500 coronavirus-related deaths having been recorded in Indiana, many people have criticized Holcomb’s statewide mask mandate and orders early in the pandemic shutting down some businesses and religious services as government intrusion on personal freedom.

Similar debates are occurring in states across the country.

Republican Sen. Susan Glick of LaGrange urged senators last month to approve the plan she sponsored because of the public’s “negative response to order, after order, after order, for which we could do nothing and our hands were tied.”

“We’re not attempting to hold government hostage,” Glick said. “What we’re trying to do is get our seat at the table to be involved in the decision-making process, not be precluded from participation.”

Action to stem the coronavirus spread occurred quickly after Indiana lawmakers ended their 2020 session, with Holcomb issuing a stay-at-home order that closed businesses deemed nonessential two weeks later. The Legislature didn’t meet again until November, despite some lawmakers calling for a special session.

The House-backed proposal would allow a 16-member group of legislative leaders to call lawmakers into an emergency session at any time after the governor has issued any statewide emergency order if the Legislature isn’t currently meeting.

The Senate plan would limit a statewide emergency order to 60 days unless the Legislature votes to endorse it, which could force the governor to call a special session if lawmakers have adjourned for the year.

Those approaches face questions, however, since the state constitution gives the governor — not the Legislature — the authority for calling a special session.

Courts would likely find that the proposals would violate the constitution by usurping the governor’s authority or by coercing the governor into recalling lawmakers in order to keep intact orders issued amid an emergency situation, former state Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan said.

The Legislature could take steps such as further limiting how long an emergency order could remain in effect or require the governor to issue special findings for extensions, said Sullivan, who spent 19 years on the court after being a top staffer for Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh.

“But they cannot interfere with the distribution of powers set forth by the constitution,” Sullivan said.

The state’s emergency powers law was updated in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, including adding epidemics and public health emergencies to the list of 29 specified situations in 2005.

Former state Sen. Tom Wyss, who sponsored the 2005 bill, said the law was meant to allow the governor to act quickly during disasters and agreed with current legislative leaders that a year-long emergency wasn’t something considered at the time.

But he also questions the wisdom of 100 House members and 50 senators trying to step in.

“To try to force his hand or something like that is a tough thing to do because of the separation of powers,” said Wyss, a Republican from Fort Wayne.

Holcomb has said he wants to cooperate with legislators, while emphasizing that his administration has had “to execute on a daily minute by minute basis.”

“In terms of guarding executive powers, the bare minimum is that lawmakers pass laws that are constitutional,” Holcomb said. “I seek to work with them from that position and include them in conversations and how we make decisions. We’ve been doing this over the last year.”

Most legislative Democrats, most of whom represent urban areas, have voted against the proposed limits that have been almost unanimously supported by Republican lawmakers from rural counties that voted by wide margins for former President Donald Trump in last fall’s election.

“If we’re gonna go to handling emergencies from a committee of one — as much as maybe we don’t think that’s correct or it’s too much power — to potentially a committee of 150, I’m not sure which is a better way to handle an emergency,” said Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 697533

Reported Deaths: 13138
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion951321706
Lake50779930
Allen38511669
Hamilton33981404
St. Joseph33279535
Elkhart26810431
Vanderburgh21931393
Tippecanoe21440212
Johnson17325371
Porter17012297
Hendricks16631308
Clark12592190
Madison12223335
Vigo12089243
Monroe11237166
LaPorte10601204
Delaware10241182
Howard9555211
Kosciusko8999112
Hancock7842137
Bartholomew7797152
Warrick7657155
Floyd7501175
Wayne6846196
Grant6724167
Boone647399
Morgan6335137
Dubois6052117
Marshall5709108
Cass5657102
Dearborn564674
Henry5545100
Noble532583
Jackson489469
Shelby474095
Lawrence4305118
Gibson424988
Harrison424870
Montgomery414486
Clinton413153
DeKalb402583
Huntington371880
Whitley371039
Miami369565
Knox363589
Steuben358457
Putnam350560
Wabash344677
Jasper341646
Adams336652
Ripley332368
Jefferson306479
White305954
Daviess287999
Wells283580
Decatur278092
Fayette276562
Greene268685
Posey267333
Scott258553
Clay250744
LaGrange249970
Randolph233379
Washington228429
Spencer226731
Jennings223947
Fountain207245
Sullivan207041
Starke199352
Owen190856
Fulton188939
Jay184829
Carroll184520
Perry178536
Orange175552
Rush169324
Vermillion165343
Franklin164435
Tipton160343
Parke143416
Blackford131730
Pike129634
Pulaski112245
Newton102334
Brown98840
Crawford96814
Benton94513
Martin81915
Warren78315
Switzerland7678
Union69410
Ohio55311
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1037600

Reported Deaths: 18827
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1203461345
Cuyahoga1048492040
Hamilton774221164
Montgomery49484984
Summit44494904
Lucas39105757
Butler37437566
Stark31094890
Lorain23775467
Warren23688291
Mahoning20622581
Lake19698360
Clermont19305226
Delaware17783130
Licking15970205
Fairfield15493195
Trumbull15377458
Medina14662255
Greene14484233
Clark13433287
Wood12547182
Portage12144193
Allen11216229
Richland10899197
Miami10455211
Muskingum8639127
Columbiana8478225
Wayne8451209
Pickaway8388120
Tuscarawas8311239
Marion8297135
Erie7415153
Ross6636145
Hancock6595123
Geauga6449146
Ashtabula6355163
Scioto625299
Belmont5518158
Union550847
Lawrence5435102
Huron5229112
Darke5225121
Jefferson5210147
Sandusky5087118
Seneca5048118
Washington5029107
Athens493654
Auglaize470484
Mercer467884
Shelby453289
Knox4332108
Putnam417298
Madison416157
Ashland408986
Fulton402165
Defiance395096
Brown383855
Crawford3819100
Logan369676
Preble367995
Clinton356859
Ottawa351978
Highland344858
Williams317574
Champaign317055
Jackson304451
Guernsey303348
Perry286449
Fayette276348
Morrow272639
Henry261266
Hardin261063
Coshocton255957
Holmes251499
Van Wert237462
Gallia232146
Pike230931
Adams226151
Wyandot224153
Hocking207057
Carroll187746
Paulding167538
Meigs140838
Noble131737
Monroe128441
Morgan105722
Harrison104836
Vinton80913
Unassigned01
Fort Wayne
Cloudy
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Feels Like: 44°
Angola
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Feels Like: 45°
Huntington
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Feels Like: 45°
Fort Wayne
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Feels Like: 44°
Lima
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Rain showers continue Saturday evening, as will a few thunderstorms. Overnight, rain will taper off a little as temperatures drop into the mid 40s. On Sunday, rain chances return in late morning and last much of the day. Temperatures max out in the mid 50s and winds will be brisk at times.
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