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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Legislators are poised to make county commissioners the final authority on

local emergency health orders, after a flare of tempers at a committee hearing.

House and Senate negotiators are fixing some ambiguous language, but the substance of the final

bill isn’t expected to change. It allows businesses to appeal to the commissioners if the health

department writes them up for a violation of an emergency order. And it keeps a provision added

by the House, requiring the commissioners to approve any emergency health order stricter than

what’s been imposed statewide.

South Bend Democrat David Niezgodski joined Republicans in voting for the original appeal-rights

bill in the Senate, but the votes on the proposal have otherwise followed party lines. Republicans

say the bill gives residents’ elected representatives a say in decisions by unelected health

officers. Democrats predict the change will politicize what should be a nonpartisan decision.

Bloomington Representative Matt Pierce argues the appeal process could stretch as long as six

weeks, while the coronavirus can spread rapidly through a community in a third of that time.

Despite the differing views, a 25-minute hearing to discuss the final version was uneventful until the

very end, when Pierce began to ask to make a final point. Charlestown Senator Chris Garten (R),

the committee’s chairman and author of the original bill, didn’t acknowledge him and announced

the hearing’s end, slamming down the gavel when Pierce protested what he called a “jam job.”

A second conference committee hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.

In Marion County, appeals and health order reviews would go to the City-County Council because

of Indy’s consolidated city-county government. Indiana’s three city health departments — Fishers,

Gary and East Chicago — would answer not to the commissioners but their city councils.

Governor Holcomb has already vetoed a bill expanding review of his emergency authority. He’s

said he has concerns about other proposals limiting the ability to respond to health emergencies,

but hasn’t specified which ones, and has stopped short of threatening more vetoes, saying he’ll

need to review the final language.