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House Votes To Empower Legislature During Future Emergencies, Curb Governor's Authority

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Brandon Smith
/
IPB News

A bill giving the General Assembly more power in future emergency situations – and tying the government’s hands a bit – in future emergency situations is halfway to the finish line.

The House easily approved the measure Tuesday, 69 to 27.

Rep. Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill allows the legislature to call itself into an emergency session if the governor declares a statewide emergency – like he did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we’d all agree that somewhere between the first day of an emergency and nine months of unchecked, there needs to be a balance,” Lehman said.

The measure also blocks state or local governments from restricting, in any way, the practice of religion. Gov. Eric Holcomb closed churches in the earliest days of the pandemic.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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It also says local health officials can’t create stricter orders than the governor’s during an emergency. Instead, only local city or county councils could do that.

But Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) said the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“We have a duty, we have a responsibility to protect the rights of our constituents, as we swore to do in these constitutions,” Lucas said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.