Gov. Holcomb files lawsuit over emergency powers law

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INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb has filed a lawsuit over legislation passed at the Statehouse that would give the legislature more authority to intervene during an emergency.

The measure, House Enrolled Act 1123, passed in the General Assembly. Holcomb vetoed the measure on April 9, but the legislature overrode the veto on April 15.

The governor is asking a trial court judge to find certain provisions of the law unconstitutional and issue a permanent injunction.

“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Indiana and I have an obligation do so. This filing is about the future of the executive branch and all the Governors who will serve long after I’m gone,” Holcomb said in a statement.

The General Assembly passed the law and overrode the governor’s veto in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Holcomb relied on executive orders to impose restrictions on businesses and a statewide mask mandate. Some in the legislature accused him of overstepping his powers.

Holcomb’s lawsuit names Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston as defendants, as well as the Legislative Council and the Indiana General Assembly.

At issue is a provision that allows the General Assembly to call itself back into a special session. Holcomb believes the state Constitution gives that power solely and expressly to the governor of the state of Indiana.

The lawsuit notes that the state constitution has undergone changes over the years. However, the lawsuit argues that the provisions regarding the governor’s power to call a special session have not:

Notably, what never changed in these constitutional provisions over the years is the sole and exclusive right and authority of the governor to call special sessions. Nowhere in these changes, or in the actual text of the Indiana Constitution itself, was the General Assembly ever given that same right, power, or ability.

From the lawsuit:

Governor Holcomb respectfully requests that the Court declare that the Disputed Provisions of HEA 1123 represent an unconstitutional encroachment on the governor’s exclusive right and authority to call special sessions, and that all individuals and governmental bodies should be permanently enjoined from enforcing those provisions of HEA 1123.

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