The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 18, 2020 1:00 am

Legislator posts letter chastising Holcomb

Nisly says governor lacks authority to order closures

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Goshen Republican Rep. Curt Nisly sent Gov. Eric Holcomb a letter Monday questioning his authority to close bars and restaurants and calling on him to rescind the order.

“Are you going to stand up for the rights of Hoosiers and let them conduct business like they see fit? Or are you going to use the heavy hand of government to let fear control Hoosiers?” Nisly said.

He said in the letter that Holcomb should be giving advisories, warnings, guidance and suggestions to Hoosiers based on consultation with health and public officials.

But Nisly asked him to back off closing privately owned bars and restaurants.

He cited the Indiana Constitution as saying “No law shall restrain any of the inhabitants of the State from assembling together in a peaceable manner, to consult for their common good (...).”

He went on to say “many Hoosiers would agree with me that the breaking of bread with friends and family in public places is the common good. Of course, currently many Hoosiers may heed warnings and choose to limit their contact with others as they see fit.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against gatherings of 10 or more people, and state health officials have followed the recommendations closely as a way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

Holcomb signed an executive order regarding the closures late Monday and made clear he has authority under Indiana's Emergency Management and Disaster Law. It includes an epidemic and gives the governor wide latitude to respond.

“An emergency declaration changes the legal and operational landscape in which the state and local governments as well as the public operate during an emergency,” said Rachel Hoffmeyer, spokeswoman for the governor. “The Governor signed an executive order Monday that references IC 16-19-3-10, which gives the state the ability to order schools and churches closed and forbid public gatherings when considered necessary to prevent and stop epidemics.”

A Tuesday press release stated, “The Governor expects those businesses to comply with the directive for the safety of Hoosiers in their communities without the need to call for enforcement measures.”

Drive-thru, delivery and takeout are allowed. 

Nisly is considered possibly the most conservative member of the House Republican caucus and has regularly filed legislation to ban abortions in Indiana that leadership has not allowed to move forward. He serves House District 22, which covers portions of Kosciusko and Elkhart counties.

Nisly said the only special powers the governor has under the Indiana Constitution in a time of public sickness are found in Article 5, Section 20, which states, “Should the seat of Government become dangerous from disease or a common enemy, the Governor may convene the General Assembly at any other place.”

He asked “how far are you willing to go to push executive authority in Indiana? Authority that I remind you, you do not have.”

Nisly said the closures are going to deprive business owners and workers of desperately needed income to cover necessities of life, pay bills and care for children. 

“I believe that if you leave this in the hands of ordinary Hoosiers, you will see that we are capable of handling difficult times just fine without government interference,” Nisly said. “I am asking you, on behalf of the citizens, residents, business owners and workers of Indiana, to rescind this order and give Hoosiers their liberty back. Your Governorship can be defined in this moment.”

Nisly posted the letter to his Facebook page and many people voiced support.

Only one person disagreed, saying “we need to think of the older, elderly, people, and ones vulnerable in other ways. Some people with all due respect, are idiotic, so they need to be forced to do the right thing. The Governor's are making the correct decisions.”

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