AG Hill presses Holcomb to call special session focused on pandemic

State Attorney General Curtis Hill is urging Gov. Eric Holcomb to call a special session of the Indiana General Assembly to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, joining legislative Democrats who have also called for a special session to address the health crisis and potentially other issues.

“The start of a new school year has crystallized the sense of insecurity and general weariness arising from governance by shifting executive decrees,” Hill wrote in a letter to fellow Republicans Holcomb, House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray. “To educate children, our public schools require clarity, consistency and affirmation of a constitutional process governing both finances and operations.”

Hill’s letter comes after the outgoing AG issued an official opinion that Holcomb lacked the authority to impose penalties on those who chose not to obey his statewide mask mandate. Holcomb’s mask mandate issued late last month did not include penalties, after the governor initially said violators could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor.

“To be sure,” Hill’s letter says, “COVID-19 remains a pandemic and a serious public health threat that all should take seriously, including wearing masks and practicing social distancing. But it has been such for nearly six months, which is enough time to re-engage ordinary mechanisms of republican government.

“… Candidly,” Hill writes, “while Hoosiers at first mostly obeyed the Governor’s emergency orders, as those orders have endured, overreached, mutated, or proven impracticable, many citizens have begun to lose respect for them.”

Holcomb’s office did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment on Hill’s letter.

Hill says clarity on COVID-19 measures can only come from enactments by lawmakers.

“Press conferences from the Governor saying one thing, and letters from lawmakers saying another—neither of which has any legal force—produce only more uncertainty and anxiety for schools, students, parents and citizens about what the consequences might be in a few months of the decisions they make today,” he writes.

A special session, he adds, “is the only way to provide the full measure of constitutional government to which Hoosiers are entitled, ensure consistency in the law governing individual conduct and the operation of public functions, afford certainty in public funding for education and other important government missions, and, critically, restore public confidence in governmental leadership and constitutional governance.”

Democrats likewise have called on Holcomb to summon lawmakers to Indianapolis for a special session to deal not just with COVID-19, but also concerns over racial injustice that prompted protests and civil unrest this summer in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. 

Democratic House Leader Phil GiaQuinta, Senate Leader Tim Lanane, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus and the Indiana House Democratic Caucus have repeatedly urged Holcomb to call a special session—calls that Holcomb thus far has resisted.

Hill and Holcomb have feuded before, most notably after Hill was publicly accused of sexual misconduct for allegations he groped a state lawmaker and three legislative aides at an end-of-session party in 2018.

Holcomb joined a bipartisan chorus calling for Hill to resign, but the AG instead dug in, ultimately leading to investigations that resulted in no criminal charges but the Indiana Supreme Court’s 30-day suspension of Hill’s license to practice law.

Subsequently, Hill lost the Republican Party’s nomination to seek reelection as AG when delegates instead chose to put former Congressman Todd Rokita on the ballot.

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