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Holcomb vetoes bill designed to let local officials adjust emergency health orders

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday vetoed a bill designed to allow county commissioners and mayors to enact more-stringent emergency orders than the state.

The measure also would have allowed the county commissioners or mayors to reverse emergency decisions, such as shutdown orders, issued by their local health departments.

In his veto, the governor said in most cases, local elected officials during the coronavirus pandemic have worked well with their local health departments, and, under new legislation, flexibility would have been limited and local responses to future health emergencies would have been undermined.

Holcomb noted that local health officers during the pandemic have tailored their decisions to local needs and COVID-19 data.

His veto said, “It is hard to express the rapidity needed in the early days of the pandemic — particularly on the local level. One reason Indiana has weathered the storm so well is due to the coordination with local health experts and the flexibility in law to be fast, nimble, and targeted. Also, the knowledge that the local health officials were able to exercise this discretionary authority greatly informed the state’s own day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, emergency response.”

He also noted that local health officers and their departments “must frequently make urgent, complex decisions to safeguard public health where time is of the essence and expertise is critical.”

The governor issued the first emergency order of the pandemic in March 2020, and the latest one extends through Memorial Day.

The Indiana legislature approved the measure April 21 as part of a conference committee report as they ended their session. The House approved the measure 65-29 while the Senate approved it 37-12.

Tuesday’s veto was the governor’s third this year. On April 9, he vetoed a bill that would curb the governor’s emergency powers, calling it unconstitutional. After the legislature overrode that veto on April 15, Holcomb filed a lawsuit to stop the law’s implementation.


“We very much appreciate Governor Holcomb’s decision to veto this dangerous legislation and prioritize the health and safety of Hoosiers. We also hope Indiana legislators will give serious consideration to the Governor’s position when deciding on any future action.

“Guided by facts, science and a single-minded mission to keep our communities healthy, local public health officials and our broader public health partners take very seriously the responsibility to protect human health and the important balancing act between science, economic impact and personal freedoms.

“Thank you again, Governor Holcomb, for your support of public health officials and the critically important work being done to protect communities throughout our state.” 

Indiana Public Health Association, and Indiana State Association of City and County Health Officials

“State and local health officers’ timely and decisive actions were critical to our success in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, made possible in large part due to the collaboration between local health officials and local elected officials.

“Instead of rushing forward with such sweeping and potentially harmful proposals as those included in SEA 5, Governor Holcomb’s veto presents a prudent opportunity to await the completion of a comprehensive review of our local health departments and state delivery of public health services. By bringing together the right stakeholders, ISMA is confident that Indiana can develop the right solution moving forward that will improve our public health system and protect Hoosiers.”

Julie Reed, executive vice president of Indiana State Medical Association