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(INDIANAPOLIS) — Two bills chipping away at emergency health orders have passed the House

and are headed back to the Senate.

The House has voted to let businesses appeal citations for violating emergency health orders to

the county commissioners. The proposal is a top priority for Senate Republicans, but House

Republicans have added a provision requiring commissioners’ approval for local health orders

stricter than those imposed by the state.

Opponents argue the bill would politicize health decisions. Bloomington Democrat Matt Pierce

predicts appeal hearings will quickly veer away from health concerns into a combination of

denunciations of any government restrictions and threats of primary challenges.

House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne) says he’s confident local officials presented with a

crisis will put public safety first. He says the bill just creates checks and balances, inserting

leaders answerable to the voters into decisions otherwise made by unelected officials.

The bill allows the commissioners to veto a county health board’s choice for department director,

or to fire the director for “good cause.”

In East Chicago, Gary, and Fishers, which have city health departments, the city council would fill

the role given to the commissioners. In Indianapolis, due to UniGov, the task would fall to the

City-County Council.

The House also approved a second bill exempting religious services from any health orders,

including mask mandates, capacity limits and social distancing. The Senate previously deleted a

similar provision, but President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) says that was more a

procedural move than a sign of opposition to the substance of the bill.

The Senate must decide whether to accept the House versions of both bills or negotiate a final

compromise version.

The votes come a day after both chambers gave final approval to a bill allowing legislators to call

themselves into session to review a governor’s emergency actions. Governor Holcomb has said

he’ll veto that bill, calling it unconstitutional. Holcomb says he has concerns about other bills,

including limits on local health orders, but has so far stopped short of a veto threat, saying he’ll

need to review the final language carefully.

A House committee will vote Thursday on another bill pushing back on one of Holcomb’s

emergency actions: the decision to postpone last year’s primary by a month and allow all voters

to cast ballots by mail. A Senate-passed bill would prohibit both actions without explicit legislative