Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday that he will veto legislation that would give lawmakers the ability to convene at any time during statewide public emergencies if such a measure reaches his desk.
The final version of House Bill 1123, which would create what would be called an “emergency session,” could pass out of both chambers as early as Thursday.
Under HB 1123, in order to convene an emergency session, the Legislative Council would have to pass a resolution declaring why an emergency session is necessary, setting the agenda for the session and determining the time, date and place it would take place. Only bills related to that agenda would be allowed to be considered during the session.
Emergency sessions would be limited to 40 days and would be required to end within 10 days of the end of the state of emergency.
The Senate passed the bill on Monday, but several minor changes were made to it on Wednesday morning, so the final version still needs to be voted on by both chambers.
During his weekly press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Holcomb said he still believes the legislation is unconstitutional, so he is “left with no other alternative.”
“I can answer that in four letters and it’s V-E-T-O,” Holcomb said.
Lawmakers have disagreed with Holcomb’s interpretation and have said the courts could decide that issue later. Holcomb did not say whether or not he would challenge the legislation in court.
HB 1123, authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, would also create an economic stimulus fund in which discretionary federal stimulus dollars received by the state would be deposited. The Legislature would be responsible for appropriating the funding if lawmakers are in session. If lawmakers are not in session, state agencies could decide how to spend the funding, but the decisions would be subject to review by the State Budget Committee.
Any stimulus money received before April 29, 2021, would not be affected by the change.
Holcomb’s administration has spent or allocated $2.4 billion in federal CARES Act funding without lawmakers having a say in how the dollars are being used, and the state is set to receive another $3 billion in federal stimulus funding.
Holcomb also said he’s “concerned” about a provision now in a different bill that would require a local governing body to approve restrictions imposed by local health departments, if those restrictions were more stringent than the governor’s.
The House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee added that language, which was initially in HB 1123, into Senate Bill 5 on Wednesday.
Holcomb has continuously allowed local governments to impose more restrictive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Marion County Health Department have continuously done so.
For example, Holcomb is ending the statewide mask mandate April 6, but the mask mandate will stay in the place in Marion County.
Under SB 5, the Indianapolis City-County Council would have to approve any restrictions imposed by the health department or Hogsett that were more stringent than Holcomb’s order.
“All these bills—and there’s multiple—that have anything to do with how we manage our way through this thorny period in our state’s history concern me,” Holcomb said. “It better concern me.”
The House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee also added language to SB 5 that would allow local governments to have less stringent restrictions, if the governor’s order allowed it. That provision was also originally in HB 1123, but lawmakers removed it before passing it through the Senate.
SB 5 would also allow businesses and individuals to appeal any “enforcement action” taken by local health departments during emergencies. The local legislative body would then have to decide whether or not to hear the appeal and rule on it.
Another provision that was stripped from HB 1123—prohibiting state and local orders from restricting anyone’s ability to worship during disaster emergencies—was added to Senate Bill 263 on Wednesday.
SB 263 also prohibits state or local orders from being more restrictive on churches than any other essential business.
This means, for example, churches would be allowed to hold services without any restrictions such as capacity size or mask mandates. But if the church operated a daycare, for example, and private daycares were subject to restrictions during the emergency, those restrictions would still apply to the church’s daycare.
SB 5 and SB 263 move to the House floor for consideration.