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Bill to improve local government accountability passes Senate

Bill to improve local government accountability passes Senate

STATEHOUSE (Feb. 8, 2021) – A bill authored by State Sen. Chris Garten (R-Charlestown) that would establish an appeals process for Hoosiers to contest local health orders issued during a state-declared emergency passed the Senate with a vote of 40 – 8 today.

“Many of our local health departments have acted admirably during the COVID-19 pandemic, and their work should not go unrecognized," Garten said. “However, the reality is that appointed health departments, rather than locally elected officials, are making decisions that impact Hoosier small businesses and their livelihood. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and through no fault of their own have faced the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Bill 5 allows our health departments to continue their critically important mission of keeping Hoosiers healthy and safe, while leaving the responsibility of enforcement in the hands of the men and women our communities elect."


Senate Bill 5 would allow any organization subject to a public emergency-related local health department order to appeal their case to the local legislative body. Local health boards and health officials – who are appointed executives – are currently able to take unilateral enforcement actions, such as assess fines and close businesses. SB 5 will improve local government accountability by giving elected officials oversight and ultimate authority in these decisions.

In order to make an appeal, any person issued an enforcement action would have to file an appeal with the legislative body no later than 14 days from the date of issuance. A stay would then be ordered to allow the business entity to continue to operate, pending the appeal. If an appeal is granted, the legislative body would hold a public hearing to determine the merits of the enforcement order. If an appeal is granted a hearing, the legislative body must issue a written decision no later than 15 days after the hearing.

SB 5 will now be considered by the House of Representatives.


Click here for a high-resolution photo of Garten.