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Legislators score major victory over governor in emergency powers legal battle

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Brandon Smith/IPB News and courtesy of the governor’s office
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Indiana Republican lawmakers scored a huge victory Thursday in their court battle with Gov. Eric Holcomb over emergency powers.

A Marion County judge ruled a new law, HB 1123, which allows the legislature to call itself into session during a public emergency, is constitutional.

Many lawmakers felt sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic as the governor issued dozens of executive orders, some of which legislators openly opposed. To give themselves more opportunity to intervene in the future, lawmakers passed the controversial measure to allow themselves to convene an emergency session.

Holcomb had argued that Article 4, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution gives the governor the sole power to call a special session – which Holcomb took to mean anything other than a regular session of the legislature – and, thus, includes those emergency sessions in the new law.

But Judge Patrick Dietrick disagreed with Holcomb's argument. Article 4, Section 9 says, "The length and frequency of the sessions of the General Assembly shall be fixed by law."

Dietrick said that "special sessions clause" Holcomb cites is merely an exception to the legislature’s powers, not the rule.

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Lawmakers generally get to decide when and for how long they meet, Dietrick wrote. And that makes the new emergency powers law constitutional.

Holcomb will almost certainly appeal the ruling.

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.
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