The Indiana Senate is moving forward with a bill to curtail the governor’s executive order privileges that is significantly different from the House version of the legislation.
The Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee on Tuesday night voted 12-0 to approve Senate Bill 407, which would prevent the governor from continuously renewing statewide emergency orders without the approval of the Indiana General Assembly.
Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, first issued a public health emergency order for the COVID-19 pandemic in March and has renewed the order every 30 days since then.
Republican legislative leaders have praised Holcomb’s handling of the pandemic, but they also say lawmakers should be able to provide input in the decisions when an emergency continues for an extended period of time.
Under the bill, the governor would be allowed to issue an initial 30-day emergency order, but then could extend it only for another 15 days, unless the governor called the Legislature back for a special session or the body was already in session.
If the governor called lawmakers in for a special session, or they were already in session, then the initial order could be extended for 30 days.
The General Assembly could then decide whether to pass legislation allowing the executive order to continue or not. If lawmakers took no action, the order would expire after that 30-day extension.
It would only apply if and when the governor’s emergency order affected 10 or more counties within a 180-day period. The bill would apply to executive orders issued after March 1.
“What we’re trying to do with this bill is broaden the number of people who are involved in the decision-making process,” said state Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, who authored the bill. “I think all of us, both minority and majority members, felt left out.”
But, as it’s currently drafted, the governor could simply issue a new executive order after 45 days, if lawmakers weren’t in session, or 60 days if they were. The bill currently only applies to executive orders being extended or renewed. Lawmakers could amend the bill to close that loophole before the legislation receives a final vote in the Senate.
SB 407 is substantially different from the House Bill 1123, which is that chamber’s attempt to address the governor’s executive powers during an emergency. That bill would create what would be called an “emergency session,” which would allow lawmakers to convene at any time during a statewide emergency.
It would not limit the governor’s ability to extend emergency orders, but if lawmakers were in an emergency session, they could pass legislation to prevent the order.
The House passed the bill 69-27 on Feb. 9.
SB 407 would also establish a legislative state of disaster advisory group that would be tasked with working with the governor during the emergency, making recommendations on how to address the situation and keeping other lawmakers informed.
The advisory group would include the Indiana House speaker, the Indiana Senate president pro tem, the minority leaders in each chamber and a member appointed by the Legislative Council. If any member was unable to serve on the advisory board, he or she would be replaced with the floor leader of their chamber and party.
The bill also aims to give lawmakers a say in how federal aid is spent during emergencies, but it’s unclear exactly what federal funding it would apply to. As currently drafted, the bill says “federal economic stimulus” dollars received by the state “for the purpose of reviving the economy” would be subject to appropriation by the General Assembly, if lawmakers were in a regular or special session.
If the Legislature wasn’t in session, the State Budget Committee would be able to review how the dollars are being allocated.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, questioned how that wording would have applied to some of the $2.4 billion in CARES Act funding the state received last year and said she’d like to see the language be more specific.
“I would just like to see that defined,” Tallian said.
Glick said she agreed with her and committed to tweaking the bill to address that.
“I’m not saying the governor spent it wrongly,” Glick said. “It’s just that, personally, I think more eyes should be involved.”