INDIANAPOLIS — The majority of Indiana’s legislature is siding against Governor Eric Holcomb once again this session.
Lawmakers voted to override Holcomb’s veto for the third time in 2021.
This time it was over a law giving local elected leaders oversight on health department orders during public emergencies.
Lawmakers technically had until the end of next session in 2022 to override this veto. However, the Republican majority felt it was important enough to address now. Those opposed wish they could have had more time to come up with a compromise.
“Sometimes, you have to make these decisions within hours,” explained Marion County Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine.
Those against Senate Enrolled Act 5 argue the law will delay important health orders and that could potentially cause an increase in death or sickness during an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would add an extra layer of bureaucracy I think for all of us,” said Dr. Caine.
The majority of lawmakers who voted in favor of a veto override say local elected leaders need a guaranteed say in the process and Hoosiers need a way to appeal health orders that impact them.
“Senate Enrolled Act 5 serves as that critical check and balance and ensures that local government closest to the people plays a central role in shaping policies that affect the life of our communities and the livelihood of Hoosiers,” said Republican State Sen. Chris Garten.
University of Indianapolis associate Political Science professor Laura Wilson said she isn’t surprised by this veto. People in Indiana have been outspoken about the issue.
“These are conversations people have. Who should have control over mask mandates? Who should have control over these decisions? State? Local? Who in local government?” said Wilson.
Those against this law claim it allows politics to get in the way of safety.
“You may be in a setting where critical decisions are being made by people who don’t have a sound medical or public health background making some of the decisions,” said Dr. Caine.
She was hoping lawmakers wouldn’t have voted against the governor’s veto, not just because Caine thinks it’s dangerous— but because she thinks with more time, there could be a better law with compromise.
“I just think it would create a greater opportunity for us to continue to have this dialogue and maybe we can highlight and put into place some things that will make all of us very comfortable about it,” said Caine.
She said there’s room for more transparency and communication during these emergencies but she doesn’t think this law was the answer.
Governor Eric Holcomb sent a statement after the override.
“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 (R) Indiana