By Dan Spalding
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers have overridden another veto issued by Gov. Eric Holcomb, this time, transferring local decision-making for public health emergencies from health officials to elected officials.
The Senate voted to override Holcomb 36-10, the House voted 59-30.
The legislation does not allow local governments to have tougher rules than the state unless approved by a city or county board.
The new law also gives those impacted by local COVID-19 rules the right to appeal.
The legislative move represents the second major rebuke Holcomb’s fellow Republicans have exacted following criticism by conservatives on how the state has handled the pandemic.
Earlier, Republicans overrode a veto by Holcomb that would establish a new process for the General Assembly to call itself into an emergency session when it isn’t meeting during its annual legislative session. That issue may well be decided in court.
As a result of the new law addressed Monday by lawmakers, the local legislative body must approve any appointed public health official’s orders when they are more restrictive than the state’s orders.
All five of the Republican lawmakers whose districts touch Kosciusko County – Sens. Ryan Mishler, Blake Doriot and Stacey Donato and Reps. Craig Snow and Curt Nisly – voted to override.
Holcomb and others who opposed the bill said that approval from elected officials would slow down how quickly the restrictions can be implemented.
Holcomb issued a statement after the votes.
Protocols in play during the pandemic allowed for a level of cooperation that Holcomb described as superb.
“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,” Holcomb said.
“My administration will do just that over the coming months to supply the legislature with up-to-date data before the next regular session.”
Two groups representing the health groups – Indiana Public Health Association and Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials – were critical of the override.
“We are extremely disappointed in the Indiana Legislature’s decision to override Gov. Holcomb’s veto of Senate Enrolled Act No. 005. This legislation is a dangerous overreaction to life-saving measures taken by local health departments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“Indiana’s local public health officials must now face even more hurdles to protect the health and safety of their communities. The impact will be immediate and unnecessary lives will be lost. We simply cannot understand why our own legislators would choose to put more Hoosiers in harm’s way,” the statement said.