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Senate panel changes public health system improvement bill, aims to ease concerns

Indiana Republican Senator Ryan Mishler gestures while speaking in the Indiana Senate. Mishler is a White man with dark, slicked-back hair, wearing a suit.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Mishawaka) changed a bill aimed at improving the state's public health system in an effort to assuage concerns about it.

A bill to significantly improve Indiana’s public health system underwent a small but potentially vital change Thursday, aimed at easing concerns about the legislation.

The measure, SB 4, contains a list of about two dozen core services local health departments must provide if they want to get significantly increased funding from the state.

Senate Appropriations Chair Ryan Mishler’s (R-Mishawaka) amendment requires the local departments to submit a plan to the state in order to receive the money. It then has the State Budget Committee review the requests, with the State Budget Agency – and not the Indiana Department of Health – dispersing the funding.

“You know, one thing I heard is they wanted more oversight from the legislature," Mishler said. "By having the budget committee review, that adds oversight, keeps the legislature involved in the method by which the money will be spent.”

Those opposed to the measure in its initial committee hearing raised fears of a state takeover of local health departments, despite repeated assurances from state leaders and the bill's author – and the text of the bill itself – indicating otherwise.

READ MORE: Senate committee passes bill to boost public health system, but challenges remain

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The measure has yet to receive a 'no' vote after unanimous approval by the Senate Health Committee and, now, Senate Appropriations Committee. Still, the bill is getting pushback despite those positive votes.

Sen. Travis Holdman (R-Markle) expressed doubt about the legislation's priorities.

"I have real problems thinking that funding additional septic system inspections is going to add to life expectancy," Holdman said. "I have trouble comprehending how restaurant inspections are going to enhance life expectancy."

The core services required in the bill include things like sanitary inspections, in addition to access to immunizations, tobacco cessation programs and maternal and child health measures, among others.

The bill now heads to the full Senate, where it likely faces its toughest test yet.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.