The coronavirus pandemic cast a heavy shadow over policy debates during the 2021 legislative session. Public health, education, budgeting — all areas of Indiana government felt the urgency of dealing with an unpredictable crisis as well as preparing for what havoc it may wreak in the future.

Hoosier lawmakers were largely relegated to the sidelines in the early months of the pandemic as Gov. Eric Holcomb and his administration wrestled with the initial social, cultural and economic impact of COVID-19 on health care systems, long-term care facilities, schools, businesses and other community institutions.

The demands on executive leadership were unprecedented.

Gov. Holcomb reacted in a timely manner and handled a difficult situation skillfully.

He did so within the confines of Indiana law and used the health and safety of the Hoosier public as his guide.

A crisis of the magnitude presented by COVID-19 created a need for legislative review and oversight.

In some areas, lawmakers met the challenge and made sensible adjustments in state law to help manage such a crisis in the future. In other areas, however, they overstepped the bounds of reason and set the state hurtling to what will likely be a constitutional battle in court.

The Republican-dominated House and Senate passed a law that establishes a new process under which legislative leaders can call the General Assembly into an emergency session.

Holcomb, also a Republican, vetoed the law, citing legal questions about the legislature’s authority to call itself into a special session. The constitution gives the governor the sole power to do that.

While Holcomb has been generally praised for his handling of the public health crisis, some conservatives have bellowed and blustered about their freedoms being infringed upon by such measures as mask mandates and other restrictions devised to slow the spread of the virus.

The governor has said he was within his rights to take the steps he did under dire circumstances, and interjecting the legislature into a rapidly changing crisis would have created obstacles to a good response.

The governor’s objections were ignored and the legislature voted to override his veto.

That sets up the potential court fight, a costly confrontation that serves little purpose.

This battle over executive power is unfortunate and unnecessary. It makes managing an emergency more difficult for a governor in the future and serves the interests of Hoosiers far less.
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