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Legislators score major victory over governor in emergency powers legal battle

holcomb, young

Gov. Eric Holcomb, center, has been in a legal battle for months against Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville), left, and House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers), right. (Brandon Smith/IPB News and courtesy of the governor’s office)

Indiana Republican lawmakers scored a huge victory Thursday in their court battle with Gov. Eric Holcomb over emergency powers.

A Marion County judge ruled a new law, HB 1123, which allows the legislature to call itself into session during a public emergency, is constitutional.

Many lawmakers felt sidelined during the COVID-19 pandemic as the governor issued dozens of executive orders, some of which legislators openly opposed. To give themselves more opportunity to intervene in the future, lawmakers passed the controversial measure to allow themselves to convene an emergency session.

Holcomb had argued that Article 4, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution gives the governor the sole power to call a special session – which Holcomb took to mean anything other than a regular session of the legislature – and, thus, includes those emergency sessions in the new law.

But Judge Patrick Dietrick disagreed with Holcomb's argument. Article 4, Section 9 says, "The length and frequency of the sessions of the General Assembly shall be fixed by law."

Dietrick said that "special sessions clause" Holcomb cites is merely an exception to the legislature’s powers, not the rule.

READ MORE: How Is Indiana Distributing COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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Lawmakers generally get to decide when and for how long they meet, Dietrick wrote. And that makes the new emergency powers law constitutional.

Holcomb will almost certainly appeal the ruling.

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

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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