Indiana lawmakers target Gov. Eric Holcomb's emergency powers. Again.

·3 min read

Republicans lawmakers are once again targeting Gov. Eric Holcomb's emergency powers during the 2022 session.

Under House Bill 1100, which passed out of the House Government and Regulatory Reform committee last week along party lines, executive orders issued by a governor can't be in effect for more than 180 days unless lawmakers approve an extension. The bill also creates more oversight over government agencies' ability to create rules in non-emergency times.

The legislation would make Holcomb's current emergency declaration due to COVID-19 obsolete unless approved by lawmakers.

"This bill is a transparency bill, it's an oversight bill, it's a government reduction bill," said bill author Rep. Stephen Bartels, R-Eckerty. "This is in no way against any person or agency."

Indiana: Why lawmakers want to close rape law 'loophole' — and why they may fail.

Already Holcomb is entangled in a court battle with the Republican-led General Assembly over the powers of the legislature, due to a bill lawmakers passed last year: House Bill 1123. That bill would allow lawmakers to call themselves back into a 40-day session during an emergency, a provision Holcomb has argued is unconstitutional.

Holcomb is awaiting a decision from the Indiana Supreme Court on the legislation.

Democratic lawmakers in the committee questioned why Republicans wanted to advance a bill related to an ongoing court battle.

"I feel like this is putting into law what they're arguing about," said Rep. Chris Campbell, D-West Lafayette.

Bartel responded that it was, but argued lawmakers shouldn't wait.

Stephen Bartels, Indiana Republican Representative, during the final scheduled day of the legislative session, Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Wednesday, April 24, 2019.
Stephen Bartels, Indiana Republican Representative, during the final scheduled day of the legislative session, Indiana Statehouse, Indianapolis, Wednesday, April 24, 2019.

"No one person should have that kind of authority for an extended period of time without bringing everybody together and talk about this and discuss it," Bartel said of the bill during a separate committee meeting.

Indiana's public health emergency, which first went into effect in March 2020, has been renewed by Holcomb 22 times. The emergency allows Holcomb to issue executive orders to respond quickly to the pandemic, but some conservatives view it as a symbol of government overreach. Holcomb, however, has not used the declared emergency to issue any sort of mandate or restriction in months, rendering it largely symbolic for now.

Republican legislators and Holcomb agree it's time to bring the emergency to a close, despite record-breaking hospitalizations and an explosion of daily case numbers in recent weeks amid the spread of the omicron variant. But first, Holcomb has asked lawmakers to make changes to Indiana law to ensure Indiana qualifies for certain federal dollars and to allow for the vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 outside of doctors' offices if they choose. Bills granting those requests have already started to advance in the statehouse.

Holcomb told reporters Thursday that he had concerns about House Bill 1100.

“There’s a lot of bills out there swirling around — this being one of them, 1100,— that could very easily have an adverse impact on administering state government and our duty," Holcomb said, "so we’re in ongoing conversations about every word entailed in that bill as it is right now."

The bill could still change. House Speaker Todd Huston told reporters on Thursday that "we're going to take a look at the bill." The full House is poised to consider any amendments and vote on the bill as early as this week.

Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's emergency powers are targeted. Again.