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House, Senate override veto of bill limiting governor’s power; court challenge expected

Follow our legislative coverage at The Indiana Citizen, in partnership with TheStatehouseFile.com

Both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate voted on Thursday to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of House Bill 1123 which limits his authority to act in emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House overrode the veto in a 59-26 vote, and the Senate followed a few hours later, voting 36-8 mostly along party lines. The action means the new law is effective immediately, setting up a potential challenge in the courts.

House Bill 1123, authored by Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, limits the powers of the executive branch like those Holcomb has exercised since declaring a state of emergency at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.The bill instead would require the General Assembly to convene in an emergency session to act without the governor’s approval.

With Thursday’s action, Indiana joins eight states that have already signed laws limit the power of the governor during the time of emergency, according to the digital political encyclopedia Ballotpedia.

“What we’re saying is that the collective input of 150 members of the General Assembly is crucial to address the concerns of 6.7 million Hoosiers who have been under emergency orders for over a year.” Sen. Susan Glick, R-LaGrange, said in urging the Senate to override.

HB 1123 is the second bill that has been overridden by the House and Senate this year, the only two vetoes to be overridden in Holcomb’s time in office. The other override was on Senate Bill 148 which deals with landlord-tenant relations.

Opposition to the override came almost entirely from Democrats who described the action as a power-move by members of the governor’s own Republican Party.

“This piece of legislation is nothing more than a power grab by the supermajority that inhibits our ability to respond to a statewide crisis,” Rep. Chris Campbell, D-West Lafayette, said in a statement opposing the override.

In vetoing the bill last week, Holcomb said in a letter to House Speaker Todd Huston that HB 1123 “violates the separation of powers” between the executive and legislative branches and raised the possibility of a legal challenge.

“If House Enrolled Act 1123 becomes law and can be used by the General Assembly it will create significant uncertainty and solidify the controversy over its constitutionality as a matter of immediate and substantial public interest,” Holcomb wrote.

“In addition, any legislative actions taken during an unconstitutional special session will be void and thus open and subject to legal challenges to set them aside. Government should serve as a steady foundation during a time of crisis. Avoidable legal action during a state of emergency will only serve to be disruptive to our state.”

Carolina Puga Mendoza and Taylor Dixon are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.