Indiana Republicans look to curb governor's power to declare emergency, close businesses


The Indiana legislature is preparing to look at several bills that would limit the governor’s power to declare and continually extend state emergencies, though it’s uncertain how quickly and to what extent legislators will act.

State Reps. Curt Nisly, R-North Manchester, and John Jacob, R-Indianapolis, introduced a resolution that would immediately end the public health emergency now in place and cancel all actions taken by Gov. Eric Holcomb pursuant to that emergency declaration.

Donald Rainwater, the Libertarian who challenged Holcomb in the governor’s race this year, has gotten behind the Nisly-Jacob resolution and is urging people to join him for a rally at the State House on Jan. 5, the first day of the new legislative session, to pressure House Speaker Todd Huston to bring the resolution to the House floor for a vote – right away.

“We want each state representative, all 100 of them, to be asked to vote yes or no, up or down,” Rainwater said in a video posted to Facebook. “It’s a binary choice: Do you vote to terminate the governor’s emergency declaration or do you vote against terminating it, so that we the citizens of Indiana will finally know for certain which state representatives stand with Gov. Holcomb, and which ones stand with the citizens of Indiana who believe that this has gone on for far too long.”

Nisly says he’s not sure his resolution has the votes to pass, but that he’s fairly sure something will pass in the legislative session that runs from early January through April.

“I know there’s enough legislators that are not OK with what the governor has done this summer and fall,” he said this week.

The Nisly-Jacob resolution cites a provision of the state’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law that gives the legislature the authority to end a declared emergency at any time, and says: “the general assembly finds that Hoosiers are responsible for and capable of protecting the health and safety of themselves and their families” and that the restrictions that have been imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic “are no longer necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Indiana.”

Holcomb first declared a 30-day public health emergency March 6. He has extended it nine times, each time for a period of 30 days, and has issued a series of executive orders that cite this declaration of a pubic health emergency and the state’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law.

Nisly says he’s hoping the House of Representatives will also clarify state law to define what counts as an emergency.

“There’s like three things that should be on that list,” he told The Center Square this week, “and a pandemic should not be on that list.”

Leaving it open to a future governor to decide what he or she considers an emergency, Nisly says, is asking for trouble, posing the question of what would happen if a future Democrat governor decided that “climate change” is an emergency.

“He could go ahead and do whatever he wants to, for as long as he wants to,” said Nisly.

But he says the most important thing is for the General Assembly to take action now to end the emergency declaration, under which Holcomb has issued more than 20 executive orders limiting the rights of citizens of the state to assemble, worship, travel and operate businesses and imposing a statewide mask mandate. This month, for the second time this year, the governor banned all non-elective surgeries in the state.

Rainwater also took the fight to Huston’s hometown of Fishers, in Hamilton County, with a rally in front of Fishers City Hall on Tuesday to protest the city health order that restaurants and bars close for indoor dining and beverage service between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. from Dec. 25 to Jan. 8, effectively canceling public New Year’s Eve celebrations in the city.

“It’s not too risky at 8 o’clock at night. It’s not too risky at 4 p.m. in the afternoon,” said Rainwater in the video, “just from 10 p.m. to 5 am. In my opinion, that seems arbitrary. It seems targeted to a specific time of evening and a specific group of people who would be patronizing those establishments during those hours. I believe this is wrong. I believe this is an overreach, an overstep of government. And I also believe that it is extremely economically destabilizing to the small businesses who have already been unfairly shouldering a tremendous burden during this pandemic.”

A spokesperson for Huston could not be reached for comment on when the House may consider any bills limiting the governor’s emergency powers.

An aide to State Sen. leader Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, indicated it’s unlikely the Indiana Senate will move quickly, saying: “Procedurally speaking, we haven’t even taken the first step.”

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