INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb says he will call state lawmakers back for a special session in May after bickering Republicans who dominate the Statehouse failed to take action on several key bills before last week's adjournment deadline.
"We need to finish the peoples' business," the Republican governor said at a news conference Monday. "In essence, what we will be doing is putting some time back on the clock."
The GOP has commanding super majorities in both chambers — holding 70 of 100 House seats and 41 of 50 Senate seats — but tempers erupted in the session's final week as they struggled to come to terms.
Legislators spent much of that honoring retiring members, in closed-door meetings, or arguing over the fine details of some of the bills that got hung up.
Among the bills left unfinished were measures that would have boosted school safety funding, regulated self-driving cars, eliminated handgun license fees and allowed churchgoers to carry guns to worship services and on school grounds.
Holcomb says he wants the special session — which estimates suggest could cost taxpayers about $30,000 a day — to focus narrowly on a couple of tax related bills and efforts to pump $5 million into statewide school safety improvements.
That means he's giving up on the self-driving car bill he championed. He also said that he was not in favor of lawmakers bringing back another bill that died, which would have allowed Ball State University to take over Muncie schools.
"I am encouraging us to stay focused on what is urgent," Holcomb said. "I am trying to lead by example with an agenda item that I was unsuccessful getting across the finish line, and I am not putting on our to-do list for a special session. It can wait, as can other bills."
Both Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and GOP Senate leader David Long said they support Holcomb's decision to call the special session. Last week, however, they each pointed blame at each other for failing to get their work done by Wednesday's midnight deadline.
But Democrats were incensed that Holcomb effectively ruled out taking up legislation to address the state's beleaguered child welfare agency, which advocates say is underfunded, overworked and struggling to handle a surge of child welfare cases brought on by the opioid epidemic.
"All along, Indiana House Democrats have said there is only one reason to have a special session this year: to fix the mess that is the Department of Child Services." said House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, a Democrat from Austin. "It should be everyone's priority to protect the lives of at-risk children. During the session, the Republicans chose to do nothing, hiding under the guise of waiting for a private consultant to tell us what we already know: there's a lot that's wrong with DCS."
Holcomb said any DCS-related issues that arise from a report to be issued in June by a consultant "will be able to wait until 2019."
During the news conference, Holcomb also addressed for the first time an emergency order he attempted to issue during the final minutes of the regular session, which would have extended the adjournment time by an hour. Democrats objected to the move, arguing he had no such legal authority to do so and Republicans ultimately decided to abandon the effort.
Holcomb said he ran from his office to the Senate to issue the order at their request because "in short, I was trying to help."
But he wouldn't say if he believes that he actually had the legal authority to issue the order.
"They did," he said of the Senate. "They still believe that we did have the authority, but for one reason or another they withdrew from that option."