Gov. Eric Holcomb has vetoed legislation that would have stripped local health officers of their independent authority to impose disease prevention measures on individuals and businesses during an emergency if the measures are more stringent than state rules.
Senate Enrolled Act 5 would have mandated the county or city council that oversees a health officer approve any health order whose provisions go beyond state requirements, such as continuing a face mask mandate or business capacity restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic now that the governor’s directives on those issues have expired.
In his veto message, the Republican chief executive said Tuesday local health officers need the ability — in any emergency — to make "urgent, complex decisions to safeguard public health where time is of the essence and expertise is critical."
Holcomb said subjecting local health officers to immediate second-guessing by a county or city council jeopardizes the ability of health officers to fashion appropriate responses to the spread of infectious disease or other health emergencies.
"One reason Indiana has weathered the storm so well is due to coordination with local health experts and the flexibility in law to be fast, nimble and targeted," Holcomb said.
"Also, the knowledge that 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."
The sponsor of the measure, state Sen. Chris Garten, R-Charlestown, last month said the potential scope of a local health order during an emergency could lead to the permanent closure of many businesses, and any decision of that magnitude deserves only to be made with the approval of local elected officials.
This is Holcomb's third veto of legislation approved this year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Hoosier lawmakers already enacted House Enrolled Act 1123, authorizing the Legislature to call itself into session during an emergency, notwithstanding his objections.
It's currently the subject of multiple lawsuits seeking to have the statute declared unconstitutional.
Lawmakers also could return Monday to the Statehouse to consider overriding the governor's veto of the local health officer restrictions and Senate Enrolled Act 323, requiring enhanced labeling of gas pumps dispensing fuel blends containing 10% to 15% ethanol.