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Governor's ability to renew disaster declarations sharply restricted by House-approved bill

The governor’s ability to extend statewide disaster emergency declarations would be significantly restricted by legislation approved Monday by the House.

The measure is seen as a response to some Republicans’ continued frustration at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Right now, the governor can declare a disaster — anything from a tornado to a pandemic to a terrorist attack — for 30 days, and renew that declaration without limit, 30 days at a time. Such declarations trigger the governor’s emergency powers, which can be quite broad.

SB 234 would now allow the governor to declare a statewide emergency for 60 days. But Rep. Matt Lehman (R-Berne) said renewal would be impossible unless the General Assembly authorizes it.

“Once the General Assembly has been engaged, we can do that by resolution,” Lehman said. “We’re trying to make this as quickly as possible for us to come in, look at the data and say yes, continue or no, end.”

READ MORE: Holcomb wins lawsuit against legislators over emergency powers law

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Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) worries about putting a limit on statewide disaster declarations.

“It also going to put us in danger of not receiving federal funding,” Shackleford said.

Many federal disaster relief dollars are tied to state disaster declarations.

In the legislation, local disaster declarations would be treated differently. If the declarations don’t apply statewide, they would last 30 days and could be extended indefinitely, 30 days at a time.

The bill is headed back to the Senate, which can vote to send it to the governor or take it to conference committee for further discussions.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Copyright 2024 IPB News. To see more, visit .

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.