Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a last-minute attempt to sneak through restrictions on state agency emergency actions and regulations on the environment and other issues embedded inside a blockchain bill.
Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed House Enrolled Act 1211, a bill originally written to get the Indiana Department of Administration to explore the use of blockchain technology within the state.
On the last day of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers added language from a bill that died in committee, House Bill 1100, which sought to impose drastic restrictions on state agencies’ ability to make regulations that would affect Hoosier health, the environment and other basic functions of government.
The language required state agencies to update rules every four years instead of every seven years and required that all emergency rules be vetted by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office before going into effect.
Environmental groups, like the Hoosier Environmental Council, argued that these provisions were unnecessary and would slow and bog down strained and short-staffed agencies, like the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Lawmakers also included language that added requirements to broadband infrastructure projects funded by Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grants.
In a letter to Speaker of the House Todd Huston, Holcomb said he vetoed the bill due to the broadbandrequirements and the new layer of review for emergency actions.
Holcomb said HB 1100 underwent very little debate in the House and was declared not ready to be passed by the committee in the Senate, and that there was no opportunity in the Senate for opponents of this bill to testify and share their concerns about it or to suggest improvements.
Holcomb said he agreed with the part of the bill that sought to ensure that emergency and permanent rules adopted and maintained by state agencies are “necessary and appropriate” but was concerned about other portions.
“[This] bill includes language that adds a new layer of review that will create some degree of delay in the adoption of emergency rules. As such, this bill is concerning because, for example, certain state agencies, such as the Board of Animal Health (in order to responsibly address health and safety concerns), often have to act very quickly in adopting emergency rules,” Holcomb wrote. “And while this bill provides that this new review should be completed “within a time consistent with the emergency,” it does not provide any recourse to an agency if that review is not competed within the time period needed by the agency to properly and timely address the emergency at hand. Alternative language could have solved this problem.”
Holcomb also said he vetoed the bill due to the questionable legality of an included mechanism that allowed state agencies to extend emergency rules beyond 90 days with the permission of an ill-defined “legislative council.”
“While the legislative process can frustrate at times, it has often been stated that, to some extent, it was designed that way. Topics of such gravity, like those highlighted in this letter, always benefit from a full review and discussion. And while disagreements on public policy naturally occur, the final product is often improved through appropriate testimony provided by all interested parties,” Holcomb wrote.
HB 1100 met its end when Sen. Chip Perfect, chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Technology, refused to bring the bill to a vote during the committee’s final hearing, saying he opposed the bill’s “one-size-fits all” approach.
HEA 1211 passed in its original form and was then amended with language from HB 1100 on the final day of the legislative session during conference committee, when representatives from both chambers of the general assembly meet to reconcile differences in the approved legislation.
The governor’s veto was praised by environmental groups, who have argued that the state of Indiana already has nearly a dozen checks and balances that restrict the approval of rules and regulations.
But members of the Indiana Legislature, many of whom are business owners who would stand to directly benefit from less regulation from state agencies, are not giving up on reducing state agencies’ ability to craft regulations.
The Indiana Senate and House of Representatives could still try to override the veto, and HB 1100’s author, Rep. Steve Bartels, and the bill’s supporters have said they would attempt to reintroduce similar legislation next year.
Legislators opposed to regulations may also have another avenue to advance their agenda.
While the governor vetoed HEA 1211, he approved Senate Enrolled Act 264, a law that establishes a 10-member administrative rules review task force to study administrative rule processes and how they compare to those in other states.
The task force is supported by the Hoosier Environmental Council, which called it a “more prudent” deliberate review than HB 1100 or HEA 1211.
The task force could help to cut away the regulatory fat opposed by Bartels and others while preserving necessary regulations, or it could provide the ammunition to push forward more anti-regulatory efforts in the future.
The task force will develop recommendations and submit a report to lawmakers by Dec. 1.