Health officials oppose Indiana Senate bill to shift power from local health departments

SOUTH BEND, Ind.--- Indiana Senate Bill 5, which would transfer authority from local health departments to local governments during public health emergencies, is facing opposition from health officials. The bill passed in the House by a vote of 65 - 28 on Tuesday.

"We need people who have gone to school, who have studied this, who have decades of experience in this field to be making decisions about the public’s health," said St. Joseph County Board of Health President Heidi Beidinger, "Not the politicians."

If passed, the bill would require local health departments to get clearance from local governments to issue a health order that is more strict than an executive order put in place by the governor. Any order less strict could still go into effect without approval as long as it follows the guidelines outlined in the governor's executive order.

In St. Joseph County, for example, the countywide mask mandate that was extended until May 27th would have to end because of Governor Eric Holcomb's mandate becoming an advisory on April 6th. 

"This bill represents a draconian approach to the legislative process," said Beidinger. "This is not the direction we need to go."

Health officials do agree that the public's wellbeing should be the ultimate goal for this sort of legislation. 

"We are concerned about the public’s health and so are the politicians," said Beidinger. "We want a healthy community and we want to take the steps to create a healthy community."

However, Beidinger says decisions of public health should be left to the people who dedicate their lives to studying it every day.

"This is exactly what we have been trained for to do and to handle," said Beidinger. "They need to let us do our job."

Governor Holcomb has not indicated if he supports the bill or not. 

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