Bill dealing with authority of health officials draws concern from Public Health Association

A group of Indiana health officials is speaking out about a bill that could head to the governor's desk, but legislative supporters say it gives more power to citizens after a year filled with health declarations.

Posted: Apr 9, 2021 5:43 PM
Updated: Apr 9, 2021 7:09 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb could soon have to consider Senate Bill 5, dealing with health emergencies and the authority of health departments and their officers, which has drawn some criticism from health officials. 

Senate Bill 5 has four main pieces. One aspect that has drawn concern deals with local health departments and public health emergencies. Health departments would need approval from their local city or county legislative body in order to create stricter measures than outlined in executive orders.

For example, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has said a local health department can set stricter capacity limits or mask rules than his executive order. Senate Bill 5 would require approval from a county or city body to put those stricter measures in place.

Other components of the bill deal with the hiring and firing of health officials. An appointment of a county health officer would be subject to approval by the county legislative body. The legislation also adds 'good cause' to the reasons a local health officer may be removed in counties other than Marion County.

The last piece of the legislation sets up an appeals process for businesses that have grievances with enforcement actions taken by local health departments in response to declared state and local public health emergencies. It would shift the process from courts to local governing bodies. 

The Indiana Public Health Association held a virtual press event Friday afternoon. Several health stakeholders participated. The organization said, "This is an extremely important issue for all Hoosiers and has potential to significantly damage public health in our state."

"Indiana Senate Bill 5 would be a dangerous experiment that Hoosiers would soon regret," said Dr. Jeremy Adler, President of Indiana Association for County and City Health Officials. "Without a doubt, Senate Bill 5 will negatively affect the ability of local health departments to protect their communities."

Dr. David Welch, Health Officer of Ripley County, said the legislation goes beyond the bounds of the coronavirus pandemic response and adds layers of government involvement to what already exists. "Public health is a thing not a lot of people are familiar with until it touches them, but a lot of times when public health officials have to act, it's not something that 'maybe we should do something in a week or so,' it's typically something that has to be done right away."

Speakers raised concerns that addressing routine problems, like code violations at restaurants, could be delayed - ultimately putting the public at risk for possible disease. Legislative supporters say that isn't the case.

State Representative Alan Morrison of Indiana's 42nd District is a co-sponsor of the legislation. He says the bill is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and aims to create a system of checks and balances.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with the legislative body having an active role in determining the restrictions that are going to be put on their constituents," said Morrison. He told News 10 the authors of the bill don't want to hold up routine operations of local health departments. Morrison explained that day-to-day operations fall under a different part of the law than what this bill is targeting.

"Public health is extremely important, nobody wants to put anybody at risk," said Morrison. "What we have seen this entire process over the last 14 months we've all lived through, is some of the powers the executive branch and unelected bureaucrats have are greater than what some of us had really understood."

Some speakers at the IPHA conference agreed that public health needs to be addressed in Indiana, but said it requires health officials, lawmakers, and community members to work together to come up with solutions.

"I feel like a whole bunch of us in this last year-plus, as citizens, feel like our voices have not been heard one way or another. So, putting this in front of our locally elected officials I think we do just that," said Morrison when asked about the potential of health decisions becoming political. "At the same time, we are not prohibiting or trying to stop any sort of public health measures. We just want to make sure it gets in front of other sets of eyes before making it any more stringent than the emergency orders have said." 

Rep. Morrison said the Senate has to concur with the House on Senate Bill 5 before it heads to the governor's desk.

Several bills were filed in both chambers dealing with different limitations of government when it comes to public health emergencies. Among them is House Bill 1123, which Governor Holcomb vetoed Friday, saying "I firmly believe a central part of this bill is unconstitutional." 

House Bill 1123 would've allowed the legislature to intervene in emergencies declared by the governor. It would allow for the establishment of procedures for calling an emergency session outside of the regular session, which the State Constitution declares as a power of the governor. 

Terre Haute
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 81°
Robinson
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 83°
Indianapolis
Partly Cloudy
77° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 79°
Rockville
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 82°
Casey
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 80°
Brazil
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 81°
Marshall
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 81°
Sunny & pleasant day.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1582392

Reported Deaths: 26884
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook60726610902
DuPage1026891351
Will862101080
Lake761221053
Kane65145838
Winnebago38503541
Madison37519564
St. Clair34621558
McHenry32619311
Peoria25609359
Champaign25478182
Sangamon24108264
McLean21470203
Tazewell19477326
Rock Island17502342
Kankakee16409232
Kendall15177104
LaSalle14258273
Macon14134230
Vermilion12805180
Adams12525147
DeKalb11460126
Williamson11116152
Whiteside7759176
Boone753381
Jackson748379
Coles7121109
Ogle699985
Grundy690481
Clinton673597
Franklin658994
Knox6439163
Marion6392135
Macoupin629997
Henry604172
Jefferson5933130
Effingham580980
Livingston560294
Woodford548291
Stephenson534088
Randolph517096
Monroe501098
Morgan477995
Fulton475369
Christian474980
Logan471373
Montgomery459776
Lee452456
Bureau421687
Perry407770
Saline393562
Iroquois389170
Fayette385256
McDonough350855
Jersey318753
Douglas301236
Shelby296943
Crawford294030
Union292445
Lawrence291031
Wayne263956
White259229
Richland254052
Hancock250934
Pike249456
Cass245628
Bond241524
Clark241038
Ford232755
Clay230547
Edgar226844
Carroll223637
Warren218655
Johnson207821
Moultrie206730
Washington203827
Jo Daviess201624
Greene197738
Mason194551
Wabash193715
Massac192643
De Witt191230
Piatt188314
Mercer185434
Cumberland172423
Menard154112
Jasper148718
Marshall132721
Hamilton125720
Brown10127
Pulaski96711
Schuyler9568
Edwards94015
Stark75426
Gallatin7214
Scott6885
Alexander66011
Calhoun6342
Henderson62614
Hardin55413
Putnam5414
Pope4685
Unassigned1192432
Out of IL80

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461