INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana legislators stepped toward a possible court fight with Gov. Eric Holcomb Thursday by voting to override his veto and give themselves more authority to intervene when the state’s chief executive declares an emergency.
The Republican-dominated House and Senate easily achieved the simple majorities required to turn aside Holcomb’s objections and enact the provisions into law.
The measure establishes a new process under which legislative leaders can call the General Assembly into an emergency session. Holcomb and some legal experts have questioned the legality of that process because the state's constitution gives the governor — not the Legislature — the authority to call a special session.
Holcomb’s fellow Republicans pushed the bill after months of criticism from some conservatives over the mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions that he imposed by executive order during the public health emergency.
Republican Sen. Sue Glick of LaGrange said Holcomb acted alone in imposing restrictions on the state’s 6.7 million residents. Glick said that shouldn’t happen during such long-lasting emergencies.
“We hope and pray that there will be none like it in the future, but in the event there is, we’re simply asking for a seat at the table, an opportunity to represent our constituents and to give them the representation that they’ve elected us to provide,” Glick said.
Holcomb wrote in his veto letter last week that he considered the bill unconstitutional and warned that any action taken by the Legislature during a self-declared emergency session would face “significant uncertainty.”
“Government should serve as a steady foundation during a time of crisis,” he wrote. “Avoidable legal challenges during a state of emergency will only serve to be disruptive to our state.”
Republican legislative leaders have said they expect a court challenge to the emergency session plan. They’ve maintained that the measure wasn’t “anti-governor” and have praised Holcomb’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which health officials say has killed more than 13,000 people in the state.
Holcomb has not said whether his office would file a lawsuit on the issue.
Democratic Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson called the Legislature’s action “Monday morning quarterbacking” and said the bill’s supporters haven’t produced any legal opinions supporting its constitutionality.
“I just worry there’s a little bit of reaction to a minority of people who objected about things like wearing masks and other things which were imposed via the executive order,” Lanane said.
Other provisions in the new law give legislators more control over federal relief money.
Other bills advancing in the Legislature would give city and county elected officials more oversight of orders issued by local health officers and limit restrictions from health orders that could be placed on religious services.