April 4, 2021

Coronavirus: Holcomb To Veto Bill On Emergency Powers, Vaccines Open To All 16+

Article origination IPBS-RJC
Indiana reported nearly 6,900 new COVID-19 cases in the last week.  - Justin Hicks/IPB News

Indiana reported nearly 6,900 new COVID-19 cases in the last week.

Justin Hicks/IPB News

The Indiana Department of Health reported 50 additional confirmed deaths over the last week. That brings the state’s total to 12,667 confirmed deaths. The state also reported nearly 6,900 new cases in the last week.

Indiana has administered 1,766,467 initial vaccine doses, with 1,241,513 Hoosiers fully vaccinated.

Here are your statewide COVID-19 headlines from last week.

Holcomb Still Dropping COVID-19 Restrictions As Virus’s Spread Worsens

Gov. Eric Holcomb is still dumping all statewide COVID-19 restrictions April 6, even as his top state health official warns of worsening spread.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, positivity rate and county-based risk of spread have all been going in the wrong direction in recent days or weeks.

And State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the state has identified the UK, Brazil, South Africa and California variants of the virus in Indiana.

“We cannot throw caution to the wind and behave as if the pandemic is over,” Box said.

Holcomb said he’s confident the state has the capacity to care for those who need the hospital if they get infected with COVID-19.

State To Open Mass Vaccination Site In Gary, Mobile Clinics Throughout Northern Indiana

Hoosiers in northwest Indiana – and across northern Indiana – will soon have access to more COVID-19 vaccination opportunities. 

The state is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up a mass vaccination site in Gary that will deliver 2,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine per day. It will run from April 7 through June 2.

The Gary site will be a drive-thru clinic, though it will serve Hoosiers who arrive via bus or by any other mode of transportation. It will be at the former Roosevelt High School. The state said it chose that location because it’s close to large numbers of high-risk Hoosiers and medically underserved populations.

Indiana Opens Vaccine Eligibility To Hoosiers 30+, Ahead Of Final Expansion March 31

If you or a loved one falls into that age group, you can register at OurShot.in.gov. If you’re in need of assistance, you can call 211. About 70 public libraries, AARP and Indiana’s Area Agencies on Aging may also be able to help with registration.

OurShot.IN.gov will redirect you to a map, which lists vaccination sites by county. Select the one closest to you (or your loved one). And then select “Click here to register.” Select what group best describes you, and then register for your vaccine.

You will need to bring some form of ID or documentation to confirm your age and that you live in Indiana. For Hoosiers who are eligible because of occupation, you’ll need to bring something to confirm that as well.

Appointments for the second dose will be made at the clinic when the first dose is administered. The state health department encouraged Hoosiers who may struggle finding an appointment to look at sites in other counties.

Senate Approves Potentially Unconstitutional Bill On Emergency Powers

The Senate approved a bill last Monday that allows the General Assembly to call itself into special session during a statewide public emergency – legislation that could be unconstitutional.

The bill, HB1123, is a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and many lawmakers’ frustration with some of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s executive orders. Sen. Sue Glick (R-LaGrange), the bill’s sponsor, said it allows lawmakers to call themselves back into session in an emergency.

“Allowing members of the Indiana General Assembly to have meaningful involvement in the decision-making by state officials during any state of emergency,” Glick said.

But legal experts say the measure is likely unconstitutional. The Indiana Constitution only says the governor can call a special session.

Holcomb To Veto Bill Allowing Lawmakers To Call Special Session During Emergency

Gov. Eric Holcomb will veto legislation that allows lawmakers to call themselves into special session during a public emergency.

Many lawmakers are angry over some of the executive orders issued by Holcomb during the pandemic. And while earlier versions of legislation this session would’ve severely restricted the governor’s emergency powers, the latest – HB 1123 – allows legislators to call a special session during an emergency. It gives themselves, lawmakers say, a voice in the process.

Holcomb – in an opinion supported by legal experts – said the Indiana Constitution only allows the governor to call a special session.

“I cannot skirt my duty and do something that I believe is unconstitutional," Holcomb said. "So, to be as clear as your question is with my answer, yes, I can answer that in four letters – and it’s V-E-T-O.”

Legislative Leaders, Governor Likely Headed To Court Over Emergency Powers Issue

Gov. Eric Holcomb and the legislature appear headed for a court battle over a bill that would allow lawmakers to call themselves into special session.

Legislative leaders reacted Thursday to the governor’s threat to veto that measure, HB 1123.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said, to change that, legislators landed on a bill that allows them – and not just the governor – to call a special session.

“The legislature should have a larger role in this process and so, I think that’s very important," Bray said. "Our caucus thinks so and I think most Hoosiers feel the same.”

But the governor said the Indiana Constitution gives him exclusive power to call a special session.

House Speaker Todd Huston said he and Bray simply don’t agree with the governor.

The General Assembly, after passing the bill, will likely override the governor’s veto, which it can do by simple majority votes in both chambers.

Local Health Officials Restricted By Proposed Legislation

Local health officials could no longer impose restrictions that go further than the state’s during a public health emergency under legislation approved by a House committee Wednesday. 

Right now, a local health officer can, for instance, impose a mask mandate in their county - even after the governor repeals the statewide mandate.

But Sen. Chris Garten’s (R-Charlestown) legislation, SB 5, says the local legislative body – county commissioners or a city council – would have to approve any health action that goes further than the state’s orders.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

Join the conversation and sign up for the Indiana Two-Way. Text "Indiana" to 73224. Your comments and questions in response to our weekly text help us find the answers you need on COVID-19 and other statewide issues.

Worship Services Shielded From Future Emergency Orders Under Proposed Legislation

Neither the governor nor local officials could ever restrict worship services during a public emergency under a bill approved by a House panel Wednesday.

Sen. Eric Koch’s (R-Bedford) legislation – SB263 – separates out religious organizations and their worship services when it comes to public emergency orders.

If, for instance, a church operates a food pantry or a day care, government officials could impose restrictions on those activities – just not any more restrictive than other, essential services.

But Koch said the bill goes further when it comes to worship.

“Essentially says that may not be regulated by government," Koch said. "I think that’s consistent with our state’s constitution.”

Most Schools Aren't Likely To Require Staff To Get A COVID-19 Vaccine. Here's Why

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility opened up to all adult Hoosiers, school leaders are encouraging staff to get their shot, but it's unlikely schools will make COVID-19 vaccines a requirement for employees.

Some school leaders are allowing employees to decide, and have organized clinics to provide employees with the opportunity to get vaccinated or offered incentives for those who do.

Nick Brown, Merrillville Community School Corporation superintendent, said he's helped organize vaccination events for his teachers. But he won't track their vaccination status, and says they can decide whether or not to get their shot. 

"We will ask and try to get some sense, but we're not collecting it formally in any way and we're not requiring teachers or staff to get the vaccination shot – that will be their decision on what they think is best for them," Brown said.

Indiana Helping Big Businesses, Colleges Set Up COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics

Indiana is supplying big businesses and higher education institutions with the COVID-19 vaccine, to help vaccinate their employees and students.

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer, said the state has been working on the program for months. And she said, to start, about a dozen businesses are launching clinics.

“Our business and industry efforts are focused initially on those businesses that have 1,000 employees or more,” Weaver said.

She said the state is also helping launch clinics at colleges and universities to target student populations.

Weaver said clinics should start next week at Indiana University-Bloomington, Purdue University, IUPUI, the University of Notre Dame, Butler University and Goshen College.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.

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