(INDIANAPOLIS) – County health directors and the Indiana Public Health Association are trying to head off a bill making it harder for health departments to take emergency action.
Legislators plan to vote Monday on overriding Governor Holcomb’s veto of a bill requiring county commissioners’ approval to go further than state orders.
The Indiana Public Health Association echoes Holcomb’s warning that the bill would cost lives, by slowing down health departments’ ability to act in urgent situations.
Legislative Republicans say there needs to be someone elected by the voters with the power to tell the health department no. Ripley County health officer David Welsh says he understands the desire for a second set of eyes on health department actions, but says there are better ways to do it. He points to long-running discussions among health professionals and county officials trying to create a statewide trauma system.
And while Welsh says he believes commissioners would analyze issues thoughtfully, he says requiring the commissioners’ blessing — and a second provision allowing shutdowns of violators to be suspended until the commissioners can consider an appeal — would take complex health issues away from trained professionals, and place them before officials who already have plenty of other responsibilities. And Paul Halverson, dean of IUPUI’s Fairbanks School of Public Health, adds there’s already a better process for appealing shutdown orders, through the courts. He says business owners can also go to the county board of health, whose members are appointed by the commissioners.
Holcomb has already lifted a state mask order and most other restrictions, but a handful of counties, including Marion still have their own. If legislators override the veto, those orders would be nullified until they’re reapproved.
The bill passed the House and Senate with only two Republican no votes, one in each chamber. Sustaining the veto would require at least 12 senators or 15 representatives to change their minds. The Public Health Association is trying to rally grassroots support to urge legislators to do so. Administrator Kim Irwin says she believes Holcomb’s explanation of the bill’s pitfalls has had some effect — she says she’s talked to some members who have reconsidered. But others say the bill is necessary to prevent overreach by officials who aren’t directly answerable to the voters. And Irwin says there’s pressure within the Republican caucuses to support the bill as a bloc.