Legislature overrides Holcomb veto of housing measure

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Editor’s note: This article has been updated with the Senate override vote.

Nearing the mid-point of the 2021 legislative session, the Indiana Senate overrode Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill that housing advocates claimed would put more Hoosier tenants at risk of eviction.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said along with overriding the veto, the upper chamber intends to move what he called “follow-up legislation” in Senate Bill 150, which is being authored by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.

“This bill will narrow and improve the score of the intended policy by removing the ‘any other aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship’ language,” Bray said. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in the House to see this through the rest of the legislative process.”

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor of Indianapolis described the override as the Statehouse stepping on the “will of the people and their local officials.”

“When he vetoed this bill last year, Governor Holcomb spoke of how the language was too broad and prevented local control over landlord and tenant relationships,” Taylor said. “He also recognized that a public health emergency was the absolute worst time to allow such a law to go in effect. Yet, here we are, still dealing with a pandemic, and the supermajority wants to throw renter protections right out the window.”

Housing rights groups have anticipated the upper chamber would attempt a reversal, marshaling their opposition as the 2021 session of the Indiana General Assembly started.

In response to the Senate calling Senate Enrolled Act 148 (2020) up for a vote, Indiana Democrats characterized the move as “heartless” and said the Republican supermajority is “drunk on power.”

“(T)his override would evict families from their homes and would demolish the trust voters place in their elected officials to create better opportunities in the future,” Lauren Ganapini, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, said before the override vote. “The INGOP have completely lost their morals.”

Separate legislation, HB 1541 would give the Legislature another chance to get SEA 148’s language into state law. The measure, authored by Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Denver, is scheduled to be heard Tuesday in the House Judiciary Committee.

“SB 148 and HB 1541 are some of the most harmful housing bills I have seen in my over 20-year housing career,” said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana. “Not only do they modify current law to take away any fines for those landlords who retaliate against tenants with just cause, but it even goes so far as to say that a city cannot even demand that tenants be informed of their most basic housing rights under law, amongst other changes.”

Also, Senate Bill 158 is causing concern. Authored by Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores, the bill includes a provision mandating that the Marion County rental fine for an ordinance violation must be imposed on the rental community rather than on a per-rental-unit basis.

SB 158 was heard Feb. 4 in the Senate Local Government Committee but has not been given a vote.

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