Politics

Council restores Marion County health orders after Indiana legislature veto override

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night restored county virus restrictions after state legislators’ veto override stripped health officials of their power to make guidelines during health emergencies.

Under the new law, if local health leaders want tougher restrictions than the state issued, a city or county council will have to pass them. The measure also allows the county commissioners or mayors to reverse emergency decisions, such as shutdown orders, issued by their local health departments.

The City-County Council passed Proposal 170 in a 19-5 vote on Monday night to restore the virus restrictions already in place in Marion County. Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Health Department, was at the virtual meeting along with the councilors.

Caine responded to the council vote, saying “the ability to make quick decisions at a local level is critical to protecting Hoosiers during a public health crisis” and thanking the council and Mayor Joe Hogsett for their “swift action”:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Marion County Public Health Department has worked closely with local, state, and federal officials, as well as partners in health, education, and the many sectors of our economy, embracing best practices and smart public health policies while preserving and protecting our local economy to the greatest extent possible. The ability to make quick decisions at a local level is critical to protecting Hoosiers during a public health crisis. I am grateful to Mayor Joe Hogsett, President Vop Osili, and the Indianapolis City-County Council for taking swift action tonight to ratify the latest public health orders, keeping our residents safe and our city headed back on track.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department

Council President Vop Osili said the council had stood with Caine and Hogsett for the last 14 months and would “continue to work together for the best interests of our community”:

This evening the Indianapolis City-County Council considered and ratified the most recent Public Health Order issued by Marion County Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine. I am thankful that my colleagues voted to continue standing firmly behind Dr. Caine’s leadership and her commitment to making local public health decisions based on science and data. 

During the past fourteen months, the health and safety of our constituents has been our highest priority as we debated and appropriated significant relief funds to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our community. We have stood with Dr. Caine and Mayor Hogsett as they made difficult policy decisions that ultimately made it possible for Indianapolis to safely and successfully host this year’s March Madness tournament and for Eli Lilly to announce plans earlier today for their employees to return to work downtown. 

As we have done since the virus arrived in Indiana, the Council will continue to work together for the best interests of our community. In a time of great uncertainty, our city’s residents can be certain of this: the Indianapolis City-County Council will remain strictly focused on safeguarding their health and doing whatever is necessary to bring our city back stronger than ever.

Vop Osili, Council president, Democrat

The Indiana General Assembly on Monday voted to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of Senate Enrolled Act 5. The Indiana Senate voted 36-10, sending the bill to the House, which voted 59-30 to override the veto.

Holcomb on Monday said he had hoped decisions about the balance of local health authority “could wait until we gathered all the relevant experts”:

As I said last week, Indiana is in an economically enviable position due in large part to the heroic local response to the pandemic that was permitted by a system rewarding speed, collaboration and medical expertise in a time of health emergency. In most cases, the cooperation between local elected officials and local health officials was superb.

I would have hoped that such sweeping change could wait until we gathered all the relevant experts and stakeholders to strike the right balance regarding local health authority during emergencies and avoid discouraging laudable service in the field of public health, especially knowing that it’s locally elected officials who appoint the local department of health board that hires the local health director in the first place.

My administration will do just that over the coming months to supply the legislature with up-to-date data before the next regular session.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, Republican

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.

The veto of SEA 5 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.

Statements:

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray, a Republican from Martinsville, released this statement:

SEA 5 brings important balance with regard to personal freedoms and public health. Since the onset of the pandemic, Gov. Holcomb has relied on his advisors – including his state-level public health officer – to provide him with the information he needs in order to make decisions on how to lead our state. SEA 5 creates the same setup at the local level and allows action to be taken quickly if needed. We fully expect our local leaders to heed the advice of those with expertise around them, including local health officers. However, our local elected officials were elected to lead their communities, just like the governor leads the state, and those local officials are ultimately accountable to the voters.

Rodric Bray, Republican from Martinsville

Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, a Republican from Fishers, released this statement:

Senate Enrolled Act 5 simply requires locals to adhere to the same approach in regards to issuing public health orders as what currently happens on the state level. Our elected governor takes recommendations from appointed state public health officials and ultimately decides the appropriate course via an executive order. Through this new law, the local legislative body must approve any appointed public health official’s orders when they are more restrictive than the state’s orders. Also, the law creates an appeals process for businesses who are ordered by a health department to pay a fine or shut down. Hoosiers have made it clear that they want an opportunity for their voices to be heard through their elected officials when restrictions can have significant and long-lasting impacts on individuals, businesses and communities. This law brings better balance to the local process while continuing to prioritize public health and safety.

House Speaker Todd Huston, Republican

In a Monday statement to News 8, a spokesperson for the Indianapolis City-County Council responded to the override, saying:

If the General Assembly chooses to override Governor Holcomb’s veto of SE5, the Council is prepared to take the necessary action this evening to ratify Dr. Caine’s current public health order and continue protecting the health and safety of Marion County residents.

Indianapolis City-County Council

Indiana Black Legislative Caucus:

The IBLC remains disheartened by the supermajority’s continued attack on local authority and expertise.

Local health departments are able to understand and pinpoint the needs of their communities in a way that the state simply cannot. We look back on the racial disparities that emerged in Indiana’s COVID-19 cases and deaths, disparities that the state was unable to address as quickly as local departments. The targeted response from local health departments saved and continues to save countless Hoosier lives.

The General Assembly needs to trust that its local health departments are doing what is right and necessary for their constituents. A government cannot function effectively if it wastes its time doubting every decision made by its partners.

The IBLC stands by Indiana’s local health departments and will continue to support local control as our state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Governor’s veto was overridden with a vote of 59-30. The law is now in effect.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus

The Indiana Democratic Party:

Another day, another moment where the Indiana Republican Party is showing Hoosiers they’d rather prioritize extreme partisanship and their ongoing civil war than actually improve the lives of our state and its families. Hoosiers are looking for responsible government, and Democrats have been delivering for them – starting with the American Rescue Plan. Indiana Democrats will continue to look after the safety and future of Indiana while the Republicans fight with themselves to the detriment of working Hoosiers.

The Indiana Democratic Party

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