The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, November 09, 2021 1:00 am


Still in legal limbo

Hoosiers deserve definitive declaration on who's ultimately in charge in a crisis

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

This has gone on long enough.

Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana lawmakers have been grappling for power for months, tying up state resources in court and leaving us all with unanswered questions about who is really in charge in times of emergency. Hoosiers need and deserve clarity, and the Indiana Supreme Court should provide it.

Fortunately, that's also what Attorney General Todd Rokita, who is representing legislators, and the governor want.

By now, the story is familiar.

Frustrated they weren't anointed the arbiters of action when COVID-19 struck the state last year, Republican lawmakers passed a measure in March giving themselves more power to intervene during crises involving public health and other emergencies.

Holcomb, who issued executive orders limiting crowd sizes and implementing mask requirements to stop the spread of the deadly virus, vetoed what is now House Enrolled Act 1123. Lawmakers overrode the veto in April.

That took the unusual fight from the Statehouse to the courtroom, with Holcomb suing his GOP colleagues a few weeks later. The Indiana Constitution grants the governor power to call a special session, not the General Assembly, he argued.

The tit-for-tat continued as Rokita tried unsuccessfully to get the case tossed and challenged – also unsuccessfully – whether Holcomb can even sue without permission from the attorney general.

A Marion County judge ruled against the governor last month, finding the special session clause in the state Constitution is a “grant of limited legislative authority to the governor, not a limitation on the General Assembly's express and inherent legislative authority over the scheduling of its sessions.” Holcomb appealed, ensuring that wasn't the last word.

It's been exhausting. More than that, it's left Indiana residents in the lurch.

But each side has agreed to a legal truce of sorts, asking the state high court to step in, take over the case and finally settle things.

Rokita's latest filing says urgent court action isn't needed because the emergency session procedure hasn't been recently used, and lawmakers will begin meeting again soon. Emergencies happen quickly, though, and the Supreme Court should take up the case sooner rather than later.

While the battle over emergency powers has focused on public health, potential problems don't end there. The state's emergency management and disaster law list a variety of calamities.

Ice storms, drought, utility failure, “radiological” or “biological” events, terrorism or a “technological emergency” are all potential widespread catastrophes that would have terrible effects on Hoosiers. Adding to the problems by arguing over who makes the rules to help in any of those scenarios would undoubtedly make things worse.

“The proper functioning of state government is critical, especially during times of emergency,” Holcomb said in a statement after his appeal was filed Oct. 22. “Our State, and its people, deserve clarity and finality on this important issue.”

We agree.

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