TIPPECANOE, FOUNTAIN AND WARREN COUNTIES, Ind. (WLFI) - Public health leaders are sharing their disappointment at the override veto vote on Senate Bill 5.
As we previously reported, Governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill. However, the state legislature reconvened on Monday and voted to override that veto.
The bill makes it so that health departments must get approval from county commissioners to make any kind of public health mandate. It makes it so that local health orders can't supersede a state health order, and it makes it so county health officers must be appointed by county commissioners.
Susan Jo Thomas is a past president of the Indiana Public Health Association. She wished that the state legislature would have taken the impact of COVID and used it to give more resources and strength to public health departments. Instead, she said she is saddened and very disappointed the seemingly partisan way our state legislature responded to the COVID-19 crisis.
"We've guaranteed that Indiana will continue to rank 48th out of 50 states in public health outcomes and funding," she said. "That's what we've done."
Republicans Senator Ron Alting, Senator Brian Buchanan, Representative Sharon Negele and Representative Don Lehe all voted in favor of overriding the governor's veto. While Democrat Representatives Chris Campbell and Sheila Klinker both voted against overriding the veto.
Local health department leaders said collaboration already exists with elected leaders, but they will do their best to adapt with this new law.
"We've tried really hard to have a collaborative approach to everything we've done with this pandemic and we've worked very closely with our local elected officials," said Tippecanoe County Health Officer, Dr. Jeremy Adler.
He added that having one public health expert with the power to make swift decisions regarding public health and safety is what ultimately saves lives during a health emergency.
"I'm hopeful that they have some understanding of public health or will seek out information or have some statewide entity that has some expertise in public health so that decisions can be made with the best evidence based public health measures," said Kathy Walker, Chair of the Fountain Warren Health Department Board.
FWHD is the only bi-county health department in the state, meaning this health department has six county commissioners to answer to now compared to three. She said it is still unclear at this point how this bill works with the two jurisdictions they serve.
Several county commissioner boards in the state, including Marion and Monroe Counties, had emergency meetings this week to re-instate measures put in place by their respective health departments.
Tippecanoe County had one mandate left in place that was stricter than the state level. That was that restaurants and bars could be at 100% of capacity if they could comply with the 6 feet of social distancing between parties. County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said they have decided to let that mandate expire while encouraging people to remain cautious.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department released the following statement on Wednesday:
"In accordance with Indiana Senate Enrolled Act 5, the Health Officer’s Order effective April 6, 2021 pertaining to restaurants and bars is rescinded.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department recommends that restaurants and bars follow guidelines provided in Governor Holcomb’s Executive Order 21-12, which encourages arranging and maintaining seating so that individuals, households, and parties are spaced at least 6 feet apart from any other individual, household, or party; and having patrons remain seated while consuming food and/or drink or when otherwise remaining on the premises.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department continues to strongly recommend that everyone older than two years of age wear face coverings in businesses, indoor public spaces, outdoor spaces when social distancing of at least six feet between people from different households is not maintained, and while using public transportation.
Until a greater number of people are vaccinated against COVID-19, it is important to continue essential preventive measures, such as face coverings, social distancing, frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds, and staying home when sick.
The Tippecanoe County Health Department will continue to monitor local COVID-19 cases and issue recommendations accordingly."