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Senate-Approved Bill Empowers Local Leaders To Overturn Health Officials' Actions

Legislation approved by the Senate Monday would give more power to local city or county leaders to overturn the actions of local health officials.

The measure is a reaction to local decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If a business is fined or shut down in response to an emergency health order, they could now appeal that decision to their city council or county commissioners (depending on whether it was a county or city health official who enforced the order).

Sen. Erin Houchin (R-Salem) said it’s about accountability.

“Yes, we want to make sure that our public health is protected," Houchin said. "But we also have to make sure that our businesses can survive.”

The local health officer's enforcement action is halted until the appeal is either heard or denied - meaning a business shut down by that official would reopen, for instance. The bill requires the city council or county commissioners to announce whether they'll hear the appeal within 30 days – but doesn't say after that point when the appeal will actually be heard.

READ MORE: How Do I Follow Indiana's Legislative Session? Here's Your Guide To Demystify The Process

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Sen. Jean Breaux (D-Indianapolis) opposed the measure. She said the public needs to trust local health officials.

“A public emergency, once declared – either by a local health officer or governor – should be respected and adhered to until the crisis has passed,” Breaux said.

The bill passed 40-8 and heads to the House.

Contact reporter Brandon at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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