Legislature overrides Holcomb’s veto of bill that weakens some local COVID restrictions

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The GOP-dominated Legislature again defied Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday, overriding his veto of a bill that will undo some local health restrictions in Indianapolis and some other cities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

After two hours of debate, the Senate voted 36-10 along party lines to overturn the veto of Senate Enrolled Act 5. The House quickly followed suit, voting 59-30 for the override.

The bill now becomes law, immediately wiping out any local orders to wear masks, set permitted capacity in bars and restaurants, or attendance caps at events.

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

In Indianapolis, however, the City-County Council could vote to reinstate the city’s more restrictive orders as early as this evening. Other counties with health orders more restrictive than the state include Monroe, Tippecanoe and St. Joseph.

The veto override is part of an ongoing battle between the governor and fellow Republicans over who should have the most control during public health emergencies.

The Legislature earlier overrode Holcomb’s veto of a bill that weakened the governor’s powers during health emergencies. The governor has sued the Legislature, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

Throughout the pandemic, many Republicans have been unhappy when local officials sometimes imposed stricter conditions than the state during the pandemic, saying it hurt businesses, such as florists and barbers. The governor allowed local officials to make those decisions.

Many Democratic lawmakers said Senate Enrolled Act 5 weakens the authority of health officials, who need to act quickly during emergencies.

Sen Jean Breaux, a Democrat of Indianapolis, called the bill a “power grab” that takes away control from health officials and state leaders.

“I feel like we’re in the middle of Republican civil war,” she said.

Sen. Chris Garten, Republican of Charlestown, author of the bill, said local health officials need a check on their power. In some cases, he said, health officers have closed businesses during the pandemic, and those decisions have led to bankruptcy, increased mental health issues “and even suicide.”

“This legislation would ensure that the local elected officials, who are chosen by the people of a particular community, to serve and represent the interests of that community, have a seat at the table when determining policies that may be so far-reaching that they could trigger unintended, unforeseen consequences.”

Sen. Mike Gaskill, Republican of Pendleton, said the bill does not take away local control.

“We’re involving more people in the decision making, and we’re more likely to get a better result,” he said.

But some Democrats said that public health officers were only doing their job in protecting public health during an emergency.

“The argument that public health officials are the reason why businesses are shutting down … is not accurate,” said Sen. Fady Qaddoura, Democrat of Indianapolis. “It’s called a pandemic, that only happened almost 100 years ago and unfortunately we’re experiencing it again.”

He called the bill “heavy handed” and “anti-public health.”

Health officials from dozens of counties had urged the Legislature not to override the governor’s veto. Holcomb vetoed the bill last week, saying it would undermine the balance between public health and the livelihood of Hoosiers.

Some say the law could delay the actions of local health departments during emergencies, such as closing an unsafe restaurant or swimming pool during an emergency.

The law 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.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea that we’re now going to allow local, non-expert politicians to override these urgent, complex decisions,” said Sen. Tim Lanane, Democrat from Anderson.

Under the new law, 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.

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5 thoughts on “Legislature overrides Holcomb’s veto of bill that weakens some local COVID restrictions

  1. Its time to run these folks out of the legislature. They are not equipped to run the state from 200 W. Washington St on a part time basis. Most of the time they don’t know what they are talking about. Republicans are nonsense mongers, and our state is hostage. What future industry will locate in this state?

  2. Steve and Pat, behold the danger of the populism peddled by the Republican Party these days.

    Frenk listed four common attributes of various populist leaders who have mishandled the pandemic: First, “the tendency to underestimate or dismiss expertise,” because “experts are considered part of the corrupt elites that the populist leader is going to defend people from”; second, “the distrust of science” and of the sort of “independent, critical thinking” that populist leaders with authoritarian inclinations dislike; third, the impulse to divide citizens between the “good people embodied by the populist leader” and “the corrupt elites,” even going so far as to politicize public-health measures such as mask wearing, rather than instilling in the public “a sense of shared destiny”; and fourth, the instinct to “trap themselves in a narrative” and then “refuse to acknowledge that they were wrong” and correct course, blaming others instead. The governments that have performed best against COVID-19, by contrast, have implemented policies “informed by science and by expertise and by political leaders who unify the country.””


  3. Oh, well if Frenk and the Atlantic have a position by all means it must be the correct one. Isn’t the Atlantic HQ’d in NYC? What policy is working there of the populist governor and mayor? I apply the Ted Kennedy doctrine. If Ted Kennedy would have been for it, I’m against! May only be right 99.9% of the time, but you’ve got to settle for a little imperfection in life. The Oldsmobile doesn’t float!

  4. Who to trust? I trust LOCAL ELECTED LEADERS. Not medical professionals or the CDC that I have no access to, but my local elected officials I do have access to. Fortunately our Indiana Legislature values our right to be governed by the local leaders we elect. Our rural community experienced very different conditions during the pandemic than metro Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Lafayette. What was prudent in those communities was not the same as what was prudent in our community. Thus the need to rely on local elected leadership. The media and medical professionals focused very little attention on the downside to closing the economy and restricting citizens movement. Significant economic losses and serious spikes in mental health cases including anxiety, depression and suicide were all but ignored. Covid statistical reports are questionable at best. The outcomes of our medical professionals mandating conflicting guidelines and requirements, and ignoring the bigger picture of the human and economic casualties of restricting commerce, have resulted in breaking trust between the medical community and citizens. If the medical professionals want to control our lives and and dictate policy, they can run for elected office. Until then, I will be governed by my local leaders that were duly elected to lead our community. Contrary to what many would have us believe, these local elected leaders are not stupid. Fortunately, our Indiana legislators have taken the right actions to ensure power is not grabbed from whom we elect and have access to.