Angela Cox is the registered nurse in charge of running Henry County Health Department.
She says a new possible state law, Senate Bill 5, would stop her and her staff from doing their jobs protecting county residents.
The bill details how local health departments have to respond during public health emergencies. The bill was created in response to the governor’s response to Covid-19 and how local health departments enforce those rules.
“This is a complete knee jerk reaction to a specific public health event and if passed will threaten the health and quite possibly more than one life in our community,” Cox said.
Henry County’s state senators Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) and Mike Gaskill (R-Pendleton) co-authored Senate Bill 5 and both voted for it on Feb. 8.
“Some local health departments have gone a little bit overboard in enforcing COVID regulations and been kind of punitive to businesses who really didn’t have any recourse,” Gaskill said. “If we can get Senate Bill 5 through the House, it creates an appeal process, where you can come and present your case to the Commissioners or in some cases, to the City Council. A lot of health departments have done a really good job of trying to protect everyone and be reasonable, but we have witnessed some areas around the state where some have been a bit heavy-handed.”
The bill moved through the Indiana House of Representatives, where several amendments were added.
Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville) voted against the bill on April 6.
The bill went back to the Indiana Senate on April 7. The senators dissented from the House amendments. It is now in conference.
Cox said Indiana lawmakers are being short-sighted with this piece of legislation and are not considering the long-term ramifications.
“Until 2020, we have not seen anyone complain about local health officials (temporarily) closing a restaurant where the public has contracted a disease such as Hepatitis A, salmonella or one of a hundred other forms of food poisoning,” she said. “SB 5 will take this power away from local health officials, put it squarely on the shoulders of local elected officials AND allow the restaurant to remain open while they appeal the ruling to the local elected officials. This is just one example of what SB 5 will do and all because of COVID-19.”
County Commissioner Bobbi Plummer has commented in previous months that she doesn’t want to have to make public health decisions when Cox and others are trained specifically to do that.
Cox asked Henry County residents to fight Senate Bill 5.
“Please reach out to the Governor’s office and any other contact you have at the State and let them know SB 5 is wrong for Henry County,” she said.