Senate OKs bill to limit governor’s emergency orders to 60 days

The Indiana Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would put a 60-day limit on emergency orders issued by the governor unless the Legislature weighs in.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, issued a public health emergency order for the COVID-19 pandemic in March and has renewed the order every 30 days since then.

Republican legislative leaders have generally praised Holcomb’s handling of the pandemic, but they also say lawmakers should be able to provide input in the decisions when an emergency continues for an extended period of time.

Under Senate Bill 407, which the Senate passed 38-8, the governor would be allowed to issue an initial 30-day emergency order, but then could extend it only for another 15 days, unless the governor called the Legislature back for a special session or the body was already in session.

If the governor called lawmakers in for a special session, or they were already in session, then the initial order could be extended for 30 days.

To have an emergency order extend beyond a 60-day period, the Legislature would have to vote to approve the extension.

The bill’s author, Rep. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said she believes the General Assembly should have a seat at the table when decisions about long-term emergencies or disasters are being made.

“The bill is not a constitutional attack on the constitutional powers of the governor,” Glick said. “This bill allows the General Assembly to reassert its constitutional role in representation of the businesses and citizens throughout the state whose livelihoods were impacted by repeated disaster emergency orders, which closed them down for extended periods of time with no recourse.”

The new restrictions would only apply if and when the governor’s emergency order affected 10 or more counties within a 180-day period. The bill would apply to executive orders issued after March 1, 2020.

The governor would not be allowed to issue a new order for the same emergency for 180 days from when the previous order expired.

SB 407 would also establish a legislative state of disaster advisory group that would be tasked with working with the governor during the emergency, making recommendations on how to address the situation and keeping other lawmakers informed.

And it would give lawmakers a say in how federal aid is spent during emergencies if they are in session. If they are not in session, the State Budget Committee would be allowed to review the spending.

SB 407 is substantially different from the House Bill 1123, which is that chamber’s attempt to address the governor’s executive powers during an emergency. That bill would create what would be called an “emergency session,” which would allow lawmakers to convene at any time during a statewide emergency.

It would not limit the governor’s ability to extend emergency orders, but if lawmakers were in an emergency session, they could pass legislation to prevent the order.

The House passed the bill 69-27 on Feb. 9. The bills now switch chambers for further consideration.

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