Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders

A new law (SEA 05) recently enacted by Indiana’s legislature imposes additional requirements for local health orders to go into effect, if they are more restrictive than an order from the governor.

On Tuesday, governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the law, saying, “I am vetoing SEA 5 because I believe it will… restrict necessary flexibility in the law, and further undermine local responses to future public health emergencies.”

Monroe County’s health regulations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have generally been more restrictive than the governor’s orders, with respect to masking and gathering sizes, among other things.

For example, the current Monroe County health regulations, which are effective through May 28, limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.

So at Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s board of heath, members got a briefing from county attorney Margie Rice on the required steps, if the governor’s veto is overridden, which they are anticipating.

A key clause of SEA 05 reads: “If the local order is issued by the health department of a county, the local order must be approved by the county legislative body.”

That means Monroe County’s board of commissioners—Julie Thomas, Penny Githens, and Lee Jones—would need to approve the regulations, which currently can be enacted by the county health administrator and health officer or the county’s board of health.

The board of health voted unanimously to keep the current regulations as they are, based on the current trends and statistics.

As a practical matter, the impact of SEA 05 on Monroe County would be procedural. Commissioners have been in support of the more restrictive regulations all along.

The city of Bloomington has been operating under regulations that are more restrictive even than the county’s rules. The executive order from the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, limits gathering sizes to 15 people.

Responding to a question from The Square Beacon, Bloomington’s city attorney Mike Rouker said in an email message: “SB 05 only applies to local health departments and local health boards. The city doesn’t have a health department or a health board, and therefore SB 05 doesn’t impact the city.”

The discussion of new regulations comes as vaccination rates statewide have ebbed, and the increase in Monroe County’s vaccination rate has started to slow.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases statewide and in Monroe County shows a trough of sorts from mid-February through mid-March, but then a slow but clear increase from mid-March to mid-April. Numbers have been bouncing back and forth since then, without a sustained trend in either direction.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the board of health, Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill described the recent pattern like this: “While the numbers are kind of vacillating, they’re somewhat stable, they are not declining.”

That means Monroe County is unlikely to see a relaxation of health regulations in the next few weeks. The board is looking to schedule a meeting sooner than a month from now to reassess the situation.

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