Indiana Legislature Votes to Cancel Governor Holcomb’s Veto to Limit the Power of Local Health Services | Indiana


(The Center Square) – Indiana’s General Assembly voted to overturn Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto on a bill that gives county commissioners the ability to prevent a local health department from shutting down a business or a local church, or impose some other sanction.

With the waiver by both the Indiana House and the Senate, a county health worker will no longer have full and uncontrolled power to amend or shut down a business during a local or declared health emergency. State, or impose occupancy limits. A business owner will now have the opportunity to lodge an appeal with the departmental commission (or a municipal commission in the case of a municipal health service). This commission may suspend all enforcement measures while it examines the appeal.

“The Senate Registration Act No. 5 would have no effect on communities that experience vibrant and successful working relationships between these groups,” said Senator Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, author of the bill. “However, in those communities that are lacking, this legislation would ensure that locally elected officials who are chosen by the people of a particular community to serve, represent and understand the interests of that community would have a seat at the table.”

Democrats jumped to the defense of Holcomb, a Republican, and argued against overturning the veto.

Senator Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said Holcomb had worked with local officials through the COVID-19 pandemic to “do the right thing” and said the Indiana General Assembly “should give faith ”to what he said in his veto message. .

“This is the person who handled this pandemic,” Lanane said. “He is the person who handled this unique emergency that we hope we never have to face again – an emergency that has threatened the lives of every citizen of the State of Indiana and sadly claimed the lives of dozens. thousands of them. “

In his letter to the General Assembly announcing the veto, Holcomb said local health workers must be able to “exercise discretion” and act quickly.

“It is difficult to express the speed needed in the early days of the pandemic – especially at the local level,” he wrote. “One of the reasons Indiana weathered the storm so well is because of coordinating with local health experts and the flexibility of the law to be quick, nimble and focused. In addition, knowing that local health officials were able to exercise this discretion greatly influenced the state’s day-to-day, sometimes hour-by-hour emergency response. “

This letter was sent to Senate Speaker Rodric Bray on May 4.

Bray and Speaker of the House Todd Huston wasted no time calling lawmakers back in Indianapolis to vote to overturn the governor’s veto.

In his defense of the bill, Garten referred to his combat experience as a member of the United States Marine Corps.

“It is because of my experience that I would say that actions and decisions of this magnitude should be balanced and that exclusive authority should be subject to rigorous scrutiny in these scenarios,” he said. said, speaking of the actions of the local health department in an emergency.

Local health ordinances imposing severe penalties on small businesses, he said, should be subject to approval by a local legislative body.

“The Senate Registration Law No. 5 is not an attack on our local public health officials or they are local public health boards,” he said, adding that most behaved with it. an “unprecedented professionalism” by “holding the line against an invisible enemy”.

“That being said,” he said, “we need to be aware and recognize that when unelected officials are empowered to limit religious freedoms, shut down places of worship, choose which businesses can work and which must. shut down, and fine the Hoosiers for living as free men and women, there has to be structural control and a balance in place. Law No. 5 on Senate registration serves as a check and balance … “

SEA 5 creates an appeal process for local business owners, churches and other entities who have received an order from their local health department during a declared local or state emergency.

They have seven days to appeal a local health official‘s order to the county commission. The commission then has 15 days to decide to hear the appeal and another 15 days to hold the hearing. And the commissioners are able to allow the business to remain open while the appeal is pending and to suspend all other enforcement actions.

The bill also makes the appointment of a new county health official subject to the approval of the county commission and allows a county commission to fire a local health official under certain circumstances.

The governor’s veto waiver passed the Indiana Senate 36-10, with all Democrats siding with the governor.

Several Republican senators spoke out in favor of small businesses in their districts that had been forced to close by local health departments, while Walmart and other “big box” stores were allowed to remain open.

Senator Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, said his local barber was forced to close, as was another salon in his town.

“The income of these people has fallen to zero,” he said. “I can’t tell you how bad we felt for them … I bet no one in the Indiana Senate missed a paycheck … So let’s not talk so cavalierly,” said he.

“No one in government, elected or otherwise, should have power that cannot be controlled by another part of government,” he added. “It’s simple, from the basics, going back to the founding of our country. It’s a simple check and balance.”

Responding to the cancellation of his veto, Holcomb said in a written statement distributed to the media: “I would have hoped that such a drastic change could wait until we brought together all the relevant experts and stakeholders to find the right balance concerning the local health authorities during emergencies and avoid discouraging commendable services in the field of public health, especially since it is the local elected officials who appoint the local department of the health council which hires in first and foremost the local director of health. My administration will do just that over the next few months to provide the legislature with up-to-date data before the next regular session. “

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