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Local Emergency Health Rules Voided Without Local Body Approval After Veto Override

Lauren Chapman
IPB News

Local health officials across Indiana can no longer impose emergency rules stricter than the state’s after Republicans overrode the governor’s veto. Local legislative bodies – county commissioners or city councils – will have to enact those restrictions instead.

The bill, SB 5, arose after Hoosiers complained to their lawmakers that local health officials went too far during the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down or restricting some businesses.

Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) said those sorts of decisions are too powerful for unelected officials to make on their own.

“I would contend that actions and decisions of such magnitude should have a check and balance,” Garten said.

But Democrats call the bill an “unwise overreaction.” Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) said health decisions should be made by experts, the local health officials.

“What this veto override would do would be to introduce more bureaucratic and political pressures and putting Hoosiers’ health at risk,” Yoder said.

In a statement, Gov. Eric Holcomb said lawmakers' "sweeping change" should have waited until all relevant experts and stakeholders could have decided on what he calls the "right balance" when it comes to local decision-making during a public emergency.

Monday's veto override means almost any current COVID-19 restrictions at the local level – capacity limits or mask requirements – are voided without action from local county commissioners or city councils.

READ MORE: How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

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Republican legislative leaders say local officials shouldn’t be surprised. Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) said the issue has been debated for months.

“To the extent they want to keep some policy in place that they would need to meet and approve, I think most of them are probably ready to go do that – or at least, they should be at this point,” Bray said.

Democrats argue the "dangerous" new law will slow down Indiana’s recovery from the pandemic.

Contact reporter Brandon at 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.