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Local Health Officials Restricted By Proposed Legislation

Spanish covid sign

Right now, a local health officer can, for instance, impose a mask mandate in their county, even after the governor repeals the statewide mandate. (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

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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.

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