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Lawmakers override Gov. Holcomb's veto of local health authority bill

The bill requires local elected officials to approve any local health orders that are more stringent than the state has in place, such as the mask mandate.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers voted Monday to override Gov. Eric Holcomb's veto of a bill that could potentially end the mask mandate in Indianapolis and impact pandemic responses in the future. The Senate override vote was 36-10 and the House vote was 59-30.

Senate Bill 5 passed easily through both chambers of the Statehouse. The House approved the bill with a 65 to 29 vote and the Senate with a 37 to 12 vote. 

The bill requires local elected officials to approve any local health department orders that are more stringent than the state has in place, such as the mask mandate still in place in Marion County but lifted in most of the  state.

Governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill May 5, saying it could delay the ability of communities to respond to local health emergencies.

In a statement on Monday, May 10, Holcomb said in part:

"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."

Credit: WTHR

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston issued the following statement:

"Senate Enrolled Act 5 simply requires locals to adhere to the same approach in regards to issuing public health orders as what currently happens on the state level. Our elected governor takes recommendations from appointed state public health officials and ultimately decides the appropriate course via an executive order. Through this new law, the local legislative body must approve any appointed public health official's orders when they are more restrictive than the state's orders. Also, the law creates an appeals process for businesses who are ordered by a health department to pay a fine or shut down. Hoosiers have made it clear that they want an opportunity for their voices to be heard through their elected officials when restrictions can have significant and long-lasting impacts on individuals, businesses and communities. This law brings better balance to the local process while continuing to prioritize public health and safety."

Republican supporters said Senate Bill 5 was meant to provide a “check and balance” following complaints about COVID-19 orders closing or limiting businesses. 

Senate Bill 5 also: 

  • Allows individuals or businesses to appeal local health department actions during an emergency to the local legislative body.
  • Requires a health department official to have the backing of local elected officials to seek court action to enforce a public health order.
  • Requires local elected officials to approve the appointment of health officers, and enables them to remove them for good cause.

The Indiana Democratic Party issued a response ahead of the override votes:

“Another day, another moment where the Indiana Republican Party is showing Hoosiers they'd rather prioritize extreme partisanship and their ongoing civil war than actually improve the lives of our state and its families. Hoosiers are looking for responsible government, and Democrats have been delivering for them - starting with the American Rescue Plan. Indiana Democrats will continue to look after the safety and future of Indiana while the Republicans fight with themselves to the detriment of working Hoosiers." - Drew Anderson, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic Party

 

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