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Senate, House override Holcomb veto on legislation curbing authority of local health officers

The Indiana Senate and House both voted Monday to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto on Senate Enrolled Act 5, undoing local emergency health orders in Marion County and elsewhere around the state. The override passed in the Senate 36-10 and in the House 59-30.

Holcomb vetoed SEA 5 May 4, saying the bill making it harder for local health departments to issue their own health mandates restricts their decision making and worries him about the state’s ability to react to future pandemics.

SEA 5 will require local health departments to ask for approval from a county council or other elected county officials when making decisions regarding health mandates.

The legislature was already set to reconvene Monday to discuss technical corrections on 2021 legislation, providing the opportunity to also vote on overriding the governor’s veto.

While the Senate first spent nearly two full hours debating the veto override, when the House session started, House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, said that wasn’t going to happen there.

“Pursuant to tradition and precedent, we don’t debate this issue,” Huston said before handing the floor over to SEA 5 sponsor Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, to speak briefly on the veto override.

In the Senate, SEA 5 author Sen. Chris Garten (above), R-Charlestown, opened up the discussion by introducing the bill and saying that everyone will forever owe a debt of gratitude to the public officials who have “conducted themselves with unparalleled professionalism” and “distinguished themselves as heroes.”

“That being said, we must be mindful and acknowledge that when unelected officials are in power to such a level as to limit religious liberties, shutter houses of worship, choose which businesses may operate and which must close, and impose fines on Hoosiers for living as free men and women, there must be a structural check and balance in place,” Garten said.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said legislators would be responsible for implementing a dangerous process by overriding the veto on SEA 5.

“Now, the proponents say we need checks and balances when people can be penalized for living as free men and women,” Lanan said. “But, you know, there’s nothing free about being dead or deathly ill and on a ventilator in the ICU.”

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said SEA 5 puts bureaucracy in place of common sense by allowing non-health officials to weigh in on health issues.

“I mean, heck, we can’t even get everybody to wear a mask on this floor,” Taylor said. “We know people are going to not do it, but we’re going to stop local officials in highly densely populated areas from enforcing mandates that make sense.”

Garten and Rep. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, took questions from several Democratic Senators during the session. And when he spoke on the veto override, Gaskill thanked Garten for “taking the heat” and “pound[ing] the facts” while their “colleagues on the other side of the aisle have pounded their fists.”

“My granddaughter, Madison, has a habit of saying, when she sees something that just doesn’t seem right, ‘Are you kidding me,’” Gaskill said. “And that’s what I’m saying today. Are you kidding me? This is a good bill.”

With the veto override, the new law takes effect immediately.

Hope Shrum is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.