INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s attorney general took aim Friday at Gov. Eric Holcomb’s attempt to block a new law giving state legislators more authority to intervene during public emergencies declared by the governor.
A lawsuit filed by the Republican governor on Tuesday challenged the law enacted over his veto two weeks ago giving legislative leaders the power to call the General Assembly into what it calls an “emergency session.”
The governor’s lawsuit argues that the GOP-dominated Legislature is “usurping a power given exclusively to the governor” under the Indiana Constitution to call lawmakers into a special session.
Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a court filing that his office alone had the authority to allow any state agency — including the governor — to file such a lawsuit and that he had not given his approval.
Rokita said in a statement that he believed the Legislature’s action was constitutional.
“This new law leaves untouched the Governor’s constitutional authority to call the General Assembly into special session, merely carrying out the General Assembly’s own constitutional authority to ‘appoint by law’ the day for ‘commencing’ its sessions and to ‘fix by law’ ‘the length and frequency of (its) sessions,’” Rokita said.
Republican legislators pushed the bill after criticism from many conservatives over the mask mandate and other COVID-19 restrictions that Holcomb imposed by executive order with the General Assembly not meeting for about nine months after its 2020 session ended.
Rokita, who was a rival to Holcomb for the 2016 Republican nomination for governor, said during last year’s election campaign that he supported curtailing the governor’s emergency powers and avoided defending Holcomb from conservative critics of his coronavirus restrictions.
Holcomb’s lawsuit filed by private attorneys in a Marion County court argues that any use of the law would be disruptive and that the measure causes “uncertainty and confusion over the constitutional powers of the Executive and Legislative Branches.”
The governor’s office said it went ahead without Rokita’s consent because “we believe under the unique circumstance of this situation, that his approval is not necessary.”
Rokita’s office also argues that Holcomb’s lawsuit against legislators isn’t allowed to proceed now under state law because the General Assembly technically is still in session despite concluding its regular business for the year on April 22. That’s because lawmakers passed — and Holcomb has signed — a bill extending the deadline for this year’s legislative session from April 29 until Nov. 15 because of delays in receiving census data so they can approve new congressional and legislative election districts.