Henry County’s state representative, Tom Saunders, was one of four Republicans in the Statehouse who agreed with Gov. Eric Holcomb on House Bill 1123.
The bill, now called House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1123, is officially law after both the State Senate and House of Representatives overrode Holcomb’s veto.
The new law gives Indiana legislators the power to call an emergency session during a declared state of emergency. Before the bill passed, it was up to the governor to call the General Assembly back for a special session.
Holcomb vetoed the bill on April 9. Both chambers of the General Assembly overturned his veto April 15.
This week, Gov. Holcomb asked a Marion County trial judge for a permanent injunction, claiming the bill violates the Indiana Constitution.
Saunders agrees with the governor.
“I thought it (HEA 1123) was unconstitutional,” Saunders said. “I’m not a lawyer, but if you read our constitution, it says the governor calls a special session.”
Saunders was not at the Statehouse for the initial House vote Feb. 9. He had been exposed to COVID-19 and was in quarantine until he got a negative COVID test.
When the bill came back to the House from the State Senate, Saunders voted against the Conference Committee Report.
He again voted “Nay” on April 15 when the House took up a vote to override Holcomb’s veto.
Saunders said the governor typically vetoes one bill per legislative session, but they aren’t usually as high profile or as impactful as HEA 1123.
He said it was unusual for Indiana lawmakers to override a governor veto during the same session and even more so for the party in power – in this case, the Republicans – to not support their governor.
The 59 “yes” votes to overturn the veto were all House Republicans. Saunders joined 22 Democrats, along with fellow GOP members John Jacob, Jim Lucas and Curt Nisly, in voting “no.” A total of 15 Representatives of both parties were not able to vote that day.
The vote from the Senate floor was straight down party lines with 36 Republicans voting to override and 8 Democrats voting no.
Senator Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) said the bill is in response to how Holcomb responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new law is supposed to restrict Holcomb “from overstepping his hand exercising his authority by continuous executive powers he’s used over the last 13-14 months now,” she said.
Saunders thought the governor handled the ever-changing situation correctly.
“It was all about saving lives. I think he saved lives,” Saunders said. “Something like this (COVID) happens once every hundred years. Hopefully we don’t see anything like it again.”
Saunders said Indiana’s governor, whoever they are, needs the ability to act within minutes or hours during a time of crisis.
He thinks it would take days for the Indiana General Assembly to make the same decision.
“We can’t do anything quickly,” Saunders said.
Holcomb’s lawsuit against the Indiana General Assembly asks the courts to protect “the future of the executive branch and all the Governors who will serve long after I’m gone.” He argued that the state constitution explicitly gives power to the governor to call a special session, so this new law cannot give that same power to the legislature.
Holcomb also said the General Assembly could cause more confusion if they did meet under the new law; any bills passed during the emergency session would be called into question if the courts later determined HEA 1123 was, in fact, unconstitutional.
“We’ll see what the courts say now,” Saunders said.
The case was filed in Marion Superior Court 12 under Judge P.J. Dietrick. As of Thursday, no court dates had been scheduled for the case.