Indiana health officials plead with Legislature not to overturn Holcomb veto

Some of Indiana’s top public health leaders are pleading with the legislature not to overturn Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill they say would dramatically weaken the authority of local health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officers of the Indiana Public Health Association and the Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials on Friday held a video press conference to make their last-ditch case that the legislation would undermine their ability to respond to emergencies.

The Indiana General Assembly is scheduled to meet Monday in a one-day session. It is widely believed that lawmakers will hold a vote on overriding Holcomb’s veto of the bill, known as Senate Enrolled Act 5.

If lawmakers override the veto, any local orders to wear masks, set permitted capacity in bars and restaurants, or attendance caps at events would be swept away immediately, the health officials said.

That’s because those restrictions already have been lifted by the governor and, under the legislative proposal, local health departments couldn’t adopt more stringent orders without first receiving approval from the local legislative body.

“A veto override of Senate Bill 5 would have immediate consequences and place the health and safety of all Hoosiers in immediate jeopardy,” said Dr. Jeremy Adler, health officer of the Tippecanoe County Health Department and president of the Indiana State Association of County and City Health Officials, which represents the physician health officers and public health professionals at the local level.

Holcomb issued the veto on Tuesday, saying it would undermine the balance between public health and the livelihood of Hoosiers.

Several counties, including Marion, Monroe, Tippecanoe and St. Joseph, now have restrictions in place that are more stringent than state restrictions. Holcomb had repeatedly allowed local health officials to impose more restrictive measures during the pandemic.

The officials said their biggest concern is the potential delay that the law could impose on the actions of local health departments, such as closing an unsafe restaurant or swimming pool during an emergency.

“One of the things I’ve found over the years in being a county health officer is these things often happen late at night, on weekends, on holidays, and we have to act quickly,” Dr. David Welsh, health officer of the Ripley County Health Department.

The bill would allow local elected officials, few of whom have medical or health training, to overrule orders issued by a city or county health department during a public health emergency.

They pointed out that every local health department already has citizen representation on it, and that adding an extra layer of oversight would just slow down the reaction time during a health emergency.

“Adding this additional layer of review by elected officials who don’t have the life experience or training to make these decisions is really dangerous,” said Susan Jo Thomas, past president of the Indiana Public Health Association, which represents several large hospitals, research institutions and public health organizations.

Throughout the pandemic, many Republicans have been unhappy when local officials sometimes imposed stricter conditions than the state during the pandemic. But many Democratic lawmakers said the bill would weaken the authority of health officials, who need to act quickly during emergencies.

The final version of the bill had passed the House by a vote of 65-29 and the Senate by a vote of 37-12. A veto override needs a simple majority of both houses.

The local health officials on Friday said they did not have a head count on how an override vote might go.

Under the legislation, a citizen or business affected by an order also could appeal the enforcement action directly in circuit or superior court or appeal to the legislative body that imposed the restriction.

“It’s certainly not a good idea to have 94 different ways of handling this appeal process,” Thomas said.

Indiana has 94 local health departments: 91 of the state’s 92 counties each has one; Warren and Fountain counties have a combined health department; and the cities of Fishers, Gary and East Chicago each have one.

“This bill unnecessarily burdens, in my opinion, our already overtaxed public health system and seriously hampers the ability of public health to serve the needs of the people,” said Paul Halverson, dean of the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI.

He added: “We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and that’s an important thing to remind everyone. People are still dying of this disease. People are still being admitted to hospitals. … So I really hope our legislators will not rush into an override of the governor’s veto.”

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32 thoughts on “Indiana health officials plead with Legislature not to overturn Holcomb veto

  1. Too bad the IN legislature isn’t acquainted with science or the principle of cause and effect. The argument might carry some weight, then.

  2. End the shamdemic now. New cases have flatlined. Deaths are virtually non-existent. Do the right thing and give us Marion County back.

    1. You must not be watching the news or know anyone that have died. Sorry for your lack of facts and science.

    2. yep, let’s close the ICU’s to those who refuse the vaccine and let’s open everything up.

    3. This isn’t just about he pandemic Ryan…… it’s about any and all public health crisis that may occur. A local restaurant that needs to be shut down because there are rats roaming the kitchen, for instance. With an override of the veto, that couldn’t happen until it is taken to the legislature and they decide. Talk about red tape and BS. I want to know right away that the restaurant isn’t sanitary!!! Think outside your tiny little box.

  3. Speaking for myself as the CEO of a Municipal Corporation I look to our Marion County Health Department for direction on numerous matters of public health. Throughout the pandemic the decisions and instructions of the Health Department have allowed us to maintain a safe place for our public employees and the public that we serve. The importance of consistent rules that are customized for the situation here in Marion County has been has also been a godsend to be honest, it resulted in clear expectations from people entering our buildings and gave our staff clear guidance as to how to proceed based on quickly changing local conditions. As experts in their field we trust our local Health Officials and urge the State Legislature to do the same!

  4. the intrinsic problem with most medical folks and/or academics is that they rely 100% on perceived science with little or no regard to common sense. If given their way we would be wearing masks while we shower till further notice. The very science they worship now says that it is safe to be outside, it is safe to congregate in small groups, we have nearly 3M doses of vaccine administered in Indiana and yet we must still adhere to draconian measures to keep us safe and care about our fellow man. How about caring for the mental, physical, and financial well being of those who gave up many of their personal liberties in pursuit of doing the right thing for fellow man. It’s time for normalcy to return to our world and if this means allowing the legislature to make the call going forward then let’s do it. Perhaps a less myopic view of the situation may be the result

    1. How much “science” is there in requiring people to wear a mask for the two minutes it takes to enter a restaurant and walk to their table, but then demask while they sit for an hour?

      What about the “science” of double masks?

      Jeffrey is right, there was little regard to common sense in constructing health policies based on science.

    2. I find it humorous that Joe B lumps all politicians and Republicans together in a perceived reality category. Both sides are using every political angle on Covid available to them. Those like Joe B are so blinded by their political biases they further create this great political divide we find ourselves in today.

    3. You’re right. I meant to say Republican politicians and Republican voters.

      Democrats are erring on the side of not opening fast enough and not being pro-choice enough to risk filling the ICU’s with vaccine deniers … for which they’d feel bad.

      The pro-life Republicans simply front care about any of that. Their interest in being pro-life ends when you exit the birth canal.

      But please, tell me about how both sides are equally bad.

      Again, open it all up. You pass on the vaccine, you’re agreeing to not seek medical care. Your body, your choice, your consequences. Save medical care for the kids who get it and the breakthrough patients.

  5. Politicians that have zero medical experience should not be making major public health and safety decisions. Would you like a politician to be your doctor? I think not.

    1. Then how do you explain Pothole Joe in Indy, and his fellow Dems in Bloomington, Lafayette and South Bend?

  6. Note the “pandemic” of 1957-58.” Never heard of it? Well it was worse in many ways than the COVID outbreak but because we handled it differently, it didn’t crash the economy and we got over it. No epidemic (which would be a better nomenclature for this episode) has been treated like COVID and they all cost lives. Our reactions and the reactions of many health officials and politicians only made COVID much worse. Real science and real treatments and less autocratic rule would have gone a long way toward battling and getting through this.

  7. Potentially great news! Way past time to get rid of the face diapers. If you other pearl clutters are worried, keep wearing your masks. The rest of us want to get on with our life’s and are sick and tired of being told what to do, where we can go and what we can and cannot do.

  8. I would always rather listen to people who use terms like “face diapers” and “shamdemic” than doctors and scientists who don’t care about the economy and only focus on people’s health.

  9. My research indicates that Covid-19 has been at least four times deadlier, adjusted for population change, than the 1957-1958 pandemic. And i was a young guy in 57-58, so had a little first-hand experience. But the point is let’s let experts in the field make the calls, not the legislature

    1. There are no reliable numbers for the current COVID pandemic as nearly every death has been categorized as “COVID”…. 550,000 , maybe 900,000 or now 2,200,000…really?

  10. We are in a catch 22. No way should the legislators be able to make the call on these matters. The medical community should make the call. The problem is the medical experts are so damn myopic that they follow the “science”with rules that make no sense. Masks at outside venues are useless. Masks to walk in a venue or walk around a venue are useless when you can take it off for an hour plus while one is sitting down. Just take a step back and think how insane this is. Everybody get the vaccine and let’s get on with it.

    1. An elected governor has been making decisions and … he won a resounding re-election just a few months ago. If the people of Indiana he was doing an awful job, his anti-mask alternative, Don Rainwater, wouldn’t have got … checks the numbers … 11% of the vote.

      There was a motion introduced into the Indiana Legislature on organization day by John Jacob to end the emergency orders – if the orders were so awful, why didn’t the legislature simply vote to end the order? They had time to make popcorn the official snack of the state of Indiana…

      Why do we need new laws when the real issue is our legislature is full of uninformed cowards?

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