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Lawmakers Approve Emergency Powers Bill, Set Up Showdown With Governor

Brandon Smith
IPB News

Legislation headed to the governor’s desk would allow lawmakers to call themselves into special session during a public emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many lawmakers felt sidelined during the pandemic. They didn’t like some of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders – like the statewide mask mandate – and wanted a louder voice in the process.

And that’s where Rep. Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill, HB 1123, comes in – a bill, he insisted, isn’t “anti-governor.”

“It is not a power grasp," Lehman said. "It is not solely a reactionary bill. It is really a bill that is a response to a generational crisis.”

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

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The bill lets lawmakers call a special session during an emergency. But House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said the legislature isn’t designed to react to those situations.

“In a time of crisis, you really need one executive, one person to really kind of make these decisions,” GiaQuinta said.

The measure also gives lawmakers slightly more oversight into how federal economic stimulus dollars are spent.

Holcomb already said he’d veto the billbecause the Indiana Constitution only grants the governor the power to call a special session.

Republican legislative leaders indicated the General Assembly will likely override that veto, which it can do with simple majorities in each chamber.

In a statement, the Indiana Democratic Party criticized the bill, calling it a "power game" and accusing Republicans of bullying the governor.

The House Monday approved the bill 64-33, with four Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Those lawmakers were Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour), Rep. Curt Nisly (R-Milford), Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) and Rep. John Jacob (R-Indianapolis).

Jacob explained that his "no" vote was because he wants to restrict the governor's emergency powers. Jacob does not believe in mask-wearing or social distancing as an effective means of curbing the spread of COVID-19. The broad scientific community – and multiple studies – disagree with him.

The Senate did not debate the bill on final passage Monday, approving it 37-10, along party lines.

Contact reporter Brandon at 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.