Bill Would Give Legislature More Chances To Block Governor Holcomb's Emergency Orders

Jan 12, 2021

Lawmakers are debating whether to give the General Assembly more opportunities to cancel a governor’s public emergency order.
Credit (Brandon Smith/IPB News)

Lawmakers are debating whether to give the General Assembly more opportunities to cancel a governor’s public emergency order.

The legislation, presented Tuesday in a House committee, is a direct reaction to some lawmakers’ frustration with Gov. Eric Holcomb during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under current law, the governor can declare a public emergency – like the health emergency during the pandemic – for 30 days. There’s no limit on how many times it can be renewed; Holcomb has done it 10 times since March.

Those declarations trigger broad authority for the governor to act. Holcomb has used such powers to, for instance, issue the "Stay-At-Home" order early in the pandemic, as well as impose restrictions on businesses and limit public gatherings.

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The General Assembly can already halt an emergency order, but only if it’s in session to do so. And when the legislature isn’t in session, only the governor can call a special session.

Rep. Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill would change that. Under his measure, Lehman said an emergency order could only initially be renewed after 30 days if the legislature is in session or if the governor calls a special session.

“If this is a good order and it needs to extend, the General Assembly is not compelled to act,” Lehman said.

After that initial renewal, a public emergency could only run for 60 more days before the General Assembly was called into special session again – and then 60 days after that, and so on.

If this bill had been in place during the current pandemic, the governor would have had to call a special session at least four times.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.