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House Votes To Empower Legislature During Future Emergencies, Curb Governor's Authority

Brandon Smith
IPB News

A bill giving the General Assembly more power in future emergency situations – and tying the government’s hands a bit – in future emergency situations is halfway to the finish line.

The House easily approved the measure Tuesday, 69 to 27.

Rep. Matt Lehman’s (R-Berne) bill allows the legislature to call itself into an emergency session if the governor declares a statewide emergency – like he did at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we’d all agree that somewhere between the first day of an emergency and nine months of unchecked, there needs to be a balance,” Lehman said.

The measure also blocks state or local governments from restricting, in any way, the practice of religion. Gov. Eric Holcomb closed churches in the earliest days of the pandemic.

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It also says local health officials can’t create stricter orders than the governor’s during an emergency. Instead, only local city or county councils could do that.

But Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) said the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“We have a duty, we have a responsibility to protect the rights of our constituents, as we swore to do in these constitutions,” Lucas said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

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