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Local Health Officials Restricted By Proposed Legislation

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Justin Hicks
/
IPB News

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.

Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington) worries the bill will politicize local health decisions.

“Instead of a process really focusing on what do we have to do to keep a health emergency from getting worse,” Pierce said.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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.

Gov. Eric Holcomb also expressed concern over the bill. He's urged local leaders to impose the restrictions they deem necessary throughout the pandemic.

The House Rules Committee did alleviate some concerns with Garten's bill. The legislation allows business owners to appeal health official actions – like fines or a shutdown – to the local legislative body. A previous version of the bill said that when that order is appealed, its effects are automatically halted until the county commissioners or city council decide whether to hear the appeal.

Under changes approved Wednesday, the health officials' actions aren't automatically paused. Instead, the legislative body can decide whether to halt it until hearing the appeal.

The bill now heads to the full House.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.