Gov. Eric Holcomb's threat to veto legislation allowing the General Assembly to convene itself during a statewide emergency, without the governor's consent, seems to have had little effect on Hoosier lawmakers.
The Republican-controlled House voted 64-33 Monday, and the Republican-controlled Senate 34-13, to approve House Enrolled Act 1123 and send it to the Republican chief executive for his promised veto.
Under the plan, House and Senate leaders would gain the ability to call the General Assembly into emergency session for up to 40 days when top lawmakers decide legislative action is needed to respond to a state of emergency declared by the governor or to undo his emergency orders.
State Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said the legislation isn't necessarily about Holcomb's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and it doesn't take away any of the expansive powers granted to the governor to operate the state during an emergency situation.
Rather, Lehman said it will ensure the Legislature has a seat at the table if a future governor dealing with a future emergency is less interested in listening to state lawmakers.
"All this is saying is that, at some point, the peoples' voice must be heard — and the peoples' voice is us," Lehman said.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, led the opposition to the proposal. He said the Legislature is not set up to respond quickly to emergencies that require minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour decisions, and he pointed to the three months it took to craft this proposal as an example.
"In a time of crisis, you really need one executive — one person — to make these decisions," GiaQuinta said.
Holcomb last week declared his understanding of the Indiana Constitution permits only the governor to call the Legislature back to the Statehouse after lawmakers have adjourned for the year, typically in April during odd-numbered years and in March during even-numbered years.
As a result, Holcomb said it would be inappropriate for him to sign a proposal into law allowing the Legislature to convene itself, since he believes that would be unconstitutional.
Lehman insisted the Constitution allows the Legislature to set the days and times it convenes and establishing an emergency session falls within that authority.
Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court may be asked to decide who is right.
Assuming Holcomb follows through on his veto threat, it takes only a majority vote in each chamber to override the governor's veto — the same level of support required to approve the measure in the first place.
The proposal also establishes a separate 10-member Legislative State of Emergency Advisory Group to tell the governor what they think of his response to an emergency, no matter if the General Assembly is in session or not, and requires the House and Senate to appropriate all discretionary economic stimulus funds provided to the state by the federal government.