Local health officials across Indiana can no longer impose emergency rules stricter than the state’s after Republicans overrode the governor’s veto. Local legislative bodies – county commissioners or city councils – will have to enact those restrictions instead.
The bill, SB 5, arose after Hoosiers complained to their lawmakers that local health officials went too far during the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down or restricting some businesses.
Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) said those sorts of decisions are too powerful for unelected officials to make on their own.
“I would contend that actions and decisions of such magnitude should have a check and balance,” Garten said.
But Democrats call the bill an “unwise overreaction.” Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) said health decisions should be made by experts, the local health officials.
“What this veto override would do would be to introduce more bureaucratic and political pressures and putting Hoosiers’ health at risk,” Yoder said.
In a statement, Gov. Eric Holcomb said lawmakers' "sweeping change" should have waited until all relevant experts and stakeholders could have decided on what he calls the "right balance" when it comes to local decision-making during a public emergency.
Monday's veto override means almost any current COVID-19 restrictions at the local level – capacity limits or mask requirements – are voided without action from local county commissioners or city councils.
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Republican legislative leaders say local officials shouldn’t be surprised. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said the issue has been debated for months.
“To the extent they want to keep some policy in place that they would need to meet and approve, I think most of them are probably ready to go do that – or at least, they should be at this point,” Bray said.
Democrats argue the "dangerous" new law will slow down Indiana’s recovery from the pandemic.