(INDIANAPOLIS) – Legislators plan a vote Monday on whether to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of a bill limiting local health orders.
The bill requires county commissioners to give their blessing to emergency orders stricter than what the governor has imposed, and lets them overturn shutdowns of businesses who violate those orders. Tippecanoe County health officer Jeremy Adler, board president of the Indiana State Association of City and County Health Officers, says that would cause problems even if the commissioners back up their health departments, because it would cause delays in exactly those situations where quick action is critical.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett would gain the power to veto health orders under the bill because of Marion County’s combined city-county government, but says he’s “grateful” for the veto and hopes legislators will uphold it. He says elected officials need to be “humble” and let health experts make decisions based on the data.
Charlestown Senator Chris Garten (R), the bill’s author, argues it’s critical to create checks and balances “when unelected officials are empowered to such a level as to limit religious liberty, shutter houses of worship, choose which businesses may operate and which must close, and impose fines on Hoosiers for living as free men and women.”
A separate bill, which Holcomb signed, exempts worship services from emergency health orders.
Association of Indiana Counties government relations director Ryan Hoff says commissioners will continue to listen to their health officers, and says the bill shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism of what he calls health departments’ “brilliant” performance in the pandemic. He says he’s not aware of any instances of health departments clashing with county government over the actions they’ve taken. But he says the change is a necessary procedural safeguard. He says people have an expectation that their elected officials will be directly involved in decisions that far-reaching.
The Indiana Public Health Association says health departments take seriously what it calls the “balancing act” between economic impact, health concerns and personal freedoms. It calls injecting the commissioners into a science-based discussion “dangerous.” The Indiana State Medical Association calls the bill “sweeping and potentially harmful,” and says the veto gives legislators time to work on a more thoughtful solution to their concerns.
Holcomb’s veto message says those provisions would add “cumbersome” new hurdles. And he says the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been shaped in part by the knowledge that local health departments can act in ways tailored to the conditions in their communities, rather than the state having to issue blanket orders.
The bill passed on party lines, with the exception of one dissenting Republican vote in both the House and Senate.