Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is leaving open the possibility of calling lawmakers back to the Statehouse after this year’s legislative session descended into chaos Wednesday as bickering Republicans failed to take up some key bills.
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
“There’s still work to be done,” the Republican governor said in a statement sent out during Thursday’s early morning hours. “After meeting with (Republican legislative leaders) I’ll look at all that can be done to complete unfinished business_whether that’s by administrative or legislative authority, if needed.”
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 had requested the additional school safety funding and included the driverless car bill in his agenda for the year.
Another controversial bill that died would have further diminished the authority of the Gary school board while allowing Ball State University to take over Muncie schools. There were also multiple tax bills that didn’t advance.
At one point, Holcomb even offered to issue a special order extending the session by an hour past midnight, though it was far from certain if he had the legal authority to do so.
When it was all said and done, leaders in the House and Senate pointed blame at each other for allowing the bills to die.
“This day was very chaotic,” GOP Senate leader David Long said early Thursday. He singled out Rep. Ed Soliday for making “things extremely difficult,” while suggesting the Valparaiso Republican “had a meltdown” during final negotiations on multiple bills.
It was perhaps a fitting bookend to a session that was already more notable for bills killed and plans postponed than legislative achievements. From the start, Republican leaders sought to lower expectations about what would be accomplished in an election year, freely acknowledging that they didn’t have an overarching policy objective to accomplish.
Another complicating factor was a power struggle in the Senate Republican caucus, brought on by the impending retirement of Long, who plans to step down from his Fort Wayne seat in November.
“That complicated things greatly,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, of Indianapolis. Long, however, insisted it was an “unfair rumor.”
Democrats blasted Republicans for wasting time.
“It is total mismanagement,” said House Minority Leader Terry Goodin, an Austin Democrat. “They are a group that has complete and total control of the chambers and they can’t get the work done.”
Over the past few days Republicans in the House and Senate spent much of their time in closed door meetings or celebrating lawmakers who were retiring.
“We were here all day yesterday when our colleague weren’t,” said Bosma, who mocked the Senate for adjourning early on Tuesday by suggesting they wanted to catch the “early blue plate special.”
Still, there were some accomplishments in the final week.
They removed restrictions on the use of cannabis-derived oil, voted to allow young immigrants called “Dreamers” to obtain professional licenses and backfilled a public school funding shortage.
But the session also had misfires.
Planned improvements to workforce development and job training programs were supposed to be a dominant issue backed by Holcomb. But instead, Republicans downsized their ambitions, pushing for a reshuffling of a governing board overseeing those efforts, while postponing heavy lifting for next year.
Earlier in the session there was an effort to add Indiana to the list of 45 other states with a hate crimes law, but that foundered amid opposition from conservatives in the state Senate. And a plan by House Republican leaders to eliminate a large number of townships also failed to generate support.
Lawmakers did find time to ban the practice of eyeball tattooing and establish the Say’s Firefly as the state’s official insect.
They also accomplished another feat signed into law by Holcomb: eliminating a prohibition on carryout Sunday alcohol sales that had effectively been in place since Indiana became a state in 1816.