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Governor's ability to renew disaster declarations sharply restricted by House-approved bill

Governor Eric Holcomb gestures with his glasses in one hand while speaking with reporters. Holcomb is a White man with light gray hair and beard, wearing a face mask and a t-shirt over a dress shirt.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Gov. Eric Holcomb renewed a statewide disaster emergency declaration dozens of times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor’s ability to extend statewide disaster emergency declarations would be significantly restricted by legislation approved Monday by the House.

The measure is seen as a response to some Republicans’ continued frustration at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, the governor can declare a disaster — anything from a tornado to a pandemic to a terrorist attack — for 30 days, and renew that declaration without limit, 30 days at a time. Such declarations trigger the governor’s emergency powers, which can be quite broad.

SB 234 would now allow the governor to declare a statewide emergency for 60 days. But Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said renewal would be impossible unless the General Assembly authorizes it.

“Once the General Assembly has been engaged, we can do that by resolution,” Lehman said. “We’re trying to make this as quickly as possible for us to come in, look at the data and say yes, continue or no, end.”

READ MORE: Holcomb wins lawsuit against legislators over emergency powers law

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Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) worries about putting a limit on statewide disaster declarations.

“It also going to put us in danger of not receiving federal funding,” Shackleford said.

Many federal disaster relief dollars are tied to state disaster declarations.

In the legislation, local disaster declarations would be treated differently. If the declarations don’t apply statewide, they would last 30 days and could be extended indefinitely, 30 days at a time.

The bill is headed back to the Senate, which can vote to send it to the governor or take it to conference committee for further discussions.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.