File-Indiana State Rep. Curt Nisley, R-North Manchester

Rep. Curt Nisly, top, listens without a mask during Organization Day at the Statehouse, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in Indianapolis.

(The Center Square) – Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb renewed the state’s public health emergency Oct. 29 for another 30 days, making it the 20th time he’s extended it since first declaring the emergency March 6, 2020. Now, however, more than half the Republican caucus in the Indiana House of Representatives is expected to have their names on resolutions to end the emergency by the time the legislators reconvene in January for the start of the regular session.

On Tuesday, which was Organization Day, the first official day of the Indiana General Assembly’s new session, two legislators introduced resolutions to end the emergency – Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, and Rep. Curt Nisly, R-Milford. Together, they had 33 members of the House listed as co-authors, approaching half the total number of Republican legislators, which is 71. Prescott said this week he has at least two more wanting to sign on and is confident he’ll have more than half of all Republicans in the House signed on by January.

“I have a major problem with legislating via executive order and I think that’s what is happening,” he said. “I think this sets a terrible precedent to have a governor ruling by executive order for going on 20 months.”

Prescott introduced a similar resolution in the last session, and while it didn’t make it to the floor for a vote, he says it had enough co-authors that the House leaders were able to use it as leverage to persuade Holcomb to drop the mask mandate and orders restricting businesses, both of which had been issued under the emergency.

“If the mask mandate and the business restrictions would have stayed in place, we would have had the votes to terminate the state of emergency,” he said.

On Tuesday, just before legislators held opening sessions of the House and Senate, Holcomb announced he’s willing to end the emergency, but wants to “wind it down responsibly” and identified what he called three key items he says must be preserved in order for him to allow the state of emergency to expire.

He said those are allowing the state to continue to receive additional federal money for Medicaid and federal food assistance through the SNAP program, and also extending the ability of the state “to efficiently vaccinate our 5- to 11-year-olds.”

He also said he is working with Sen. Rodric Bray, the Senate leader, and with Speaker Todd Huston to consider passing bills to address these three things.

Nisly questioned why the House would want to agree to the governor’s conditions.

“Why would we even consider these?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t we just end it?”

He also said he would not support a law that would allow young children to be vaccinated outside of a doctor’s office.

“I think it is a good idea with a doctor’s supervision if you’re going to go through with a vaccination for a child,” he said.

Under the state’s Emergency Management and Disaster Law, the Indiana General Assembly can vote to end a governor’s declared emergency at any time after the initial 30-day period, and if they do this, the governor is then obliged to issue an order ending it.

Prescott says there’s been an evolution of reasons why many legislators have not supported ending the emergency sooner, many of them related to wanting the state to continue to get the additional funding for Medicaid and SNAP, but also FEMA and other programs.

But the biggest reason, he says, is political.

“They wanted the governor to end it on his own,” he said, “not wanting to step on his toes.”