Indiana lawmakers override veto on local health rules

Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers have voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill giving local elected officials power over county or city public health orders issued during emergencies.

The Republican-dominated House and Senate both easily approved the new law requiring elected county commissioners or city councils to approve any local health orders that are more stringent than statewide directives if the local measures are to take effect. That would include mask mandates now in place for cities including Indianapolis, South Bend, Elkhart and Bloomington since the statewide mask order expired in early April.

The action to override last week’s veto by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb makes the new law effective immediately. Holcomb said he didn’t want to jeopardize the flexibility of local health officials as work continues to vaccinate more people against COVID-19.

Republican legislators say the proposal is meant to provide a “check and balance” protecting the rights of business owners following complaints about COVID-19 orders closing or limiting businesses that have been imposed over the past year.

Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials President Jeremy P. Adler and the Indiana Public Health Association’s former president Susan Jo Thomas, who is currently the executive director of Covering Kids & Families of Indiana, released the following joint statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in the Indiana Legislature’s decision to override Gov. Holcomb’s veto of Senate Enrolled Act No. 005. This legislation is a dangerous overreaction to life-saving measures taken by local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indiana’s local public health officials must now face even more hurdles to protect the health and safety of their communities. The impact will be immediate and unnecessary lives will be lost. We simply cannot understand why our own legislators would choose to put more Hoosiers in harm’s way.

Our state’s primary problems regarding public health have little to do with decision-making authority. At a foundational level, Indiana lacks the infrastructure necessary to properly carry out its public health functions. We rank 48th in state funding for public health, which leads to a lack of resources, insufficient staffing and less desirable health outcomes for our population.

We hope that this legislation will be reconsidered in the future. Our 1,300+ local health department employees, as well as thousands of other doctors, nurses, public health professionals and hospital leaders are more than willing to collaborate on meaningful efforts to improve public health in Indiana.”  

Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials President Jeremy P. Adler and the Indiana Public Health Association’s former president Susan Jo Thomas

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb issued the veto last week, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the flexibility of local health officials as work continues to vaccinate more people against COVID-19.

As I said last week, Indiana is in an economically enviable position due in large part to the heroic local response to the pandemic that was permitted by a system rewarding speed, collaboration and medical expertise in a time of health emergency. In most cases, the cooperation between local elected officials and local health officials was superb.

I would have hoped that such sweeping change could wait until we gathered all the relevant experts and stakeholders to strike the right balance regarding local health authority during emergencies and avoid discouraging laudable service in the field of public health, especially knowing that it’s locally elected officials who appoint the local department of health board that hires the local health director in the first place.

My administration will do just that over the coming months to supply the legislature with up-to-date data before the next regular session

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb

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