INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana General Assembly could call itself into session during a future statewide disaster emergency under a bill passed 38-10 by the Senate on Monday. Only Democrats voted no.
All area senators supported the bill, which is just one final concurrence vote in the House from going to Gov. Eric Holcomb. He will have to decide whether to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Holcomb has questioned the constitutionality of the bill because the Indiana Constitution only says the governor can call a special session.
But House Bill 1123 calls it an emergency session and gives a bipartisan 16-member Legislative Council the ability to bring the entire legislature back and alter or cancel a governor's emergency.
Multiple constitutional experts testified it is an unconstitutional breach of separation of powers.
GOP leadership acted quickly on the bill so that if Holcomb vetoes it they have time left in session to vote on an override. Overriding a gubernatorial veto requires a simple majority. The session must end by April 29.
Lawmakers have been frustrated the last year at Holcomb's numerous executive orders because they were out of session until January. But since legislators returned, they haven't canceled the emergency order.
Indiana's disaster emergency law gives the governor wide discretion in handling an emergency – which can include tornadoes, terrorism, utility failures and pandemics.
Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange – the bill's Senate sponsor – said it establishes a formal procedure so that lawmakers can have meaningful involvement in any state of emergency declared by the governor.
The measure also creates a legislative advisory group and reduces any violations of an emergency order from a B misdemeanor to a B infraction.
Glick also said there is language in the bill to give lawmakers more say over the spending of billions in federal economic aid that has come to the state. Holcomb made all decisions last year with no formal input from the legislative branch.
Glick said spending that money “demands the action and involvement of the General Assembly.”
If the legislature is in session, its members must appropriate the money. If not, the State Budget Committee must review expenditures – but not approve.
Earlier versions of the bill in both the House and Senate were stricter. The latest does not have a hard cap on how long an emergency can go and doesn't discuss local health orders or religious activity.