INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana lawmakers gave a key sign of support Monday for the governor’s proposal that would broadly expand state support for county-level public health programs to improve poor national rankings. state in areas such as smoking, obesity and life expectancy.

Members of the Indiana House voted 78 to 21 in favor of the bill, with opposition coming from the more conservative Republican members. Those votes against the proposal came despite changes to clarify that county lawmakers can opt out of the state program at any time since the Republican-dominated Senate approved the bill in February.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Brad Barrett urged support for the proposal, saying county health programs are “stretched” and these issues have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. .

“It just highlighted how uncoordinated and poorly funded it was,” said Barrett, a Republican from Richmond.

The bill defines “basic public health services” for which county health departments would be required to provide acceptance of greater state funding. These would include access to required childhood vaccinations, emergency preparedness, restaurant and sewer system inspections, communicable disease prevention and smoking cessation programs.

House and Senate negotiators face a deadline by the end of next week to reach agreement on a final version of the plan. They also need to determine how much state money to direct toward increasing funding from the current $7 million a year that goes to county health departments, which are primarily funded by local taxes.

Lawmakers cut Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb’s request for nearly $350 million over the next two years for county health funding and other initiatives such as improving the state’s trauma care network. ‘State. The House and Senate budget proposals reduced state funding to a maximum of $225 million.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ryan Mishler said last week that several Republican senators are concerned that state officials may take more control over local health departments.

While county officials would have the option to accept the money and expand services, some opponents complaining of government-ordered COVID-19 precautions said at legislative committee hearings they fear creeping authority. of the state on local health agencies. Opponents of the plan have focused on issues including complaints about federal approval of COVID-19 vaccines and executive orders from Holcomb early in the pandemic for business closures and a face mask mandate.

Former Republican Sen. Luke Kenley, who was co-chair of a public health commission appointed by Holcomb, said Indiana needed to improve funding for the county’s public health department from its 45th-place national ranking. , even in the face of “vociferous” opponents.

“They’re still fighting the pandemic wars over vaccinations and masks and mandates and someone is telling us what to do,” Kenley said.

Similar grievances were leveled at Indiana lawmakers as they debated a failed-passing proposal last year to severely limit COVID-19 vaccine requirements that companies may impose on employees.

Holcomb has made the public health proposal one of its top priorities for the new two-year state budget. Pointing to Indiana’s ranking near the bottom nationally in areas such as obesity, smoking and life expectancy as “a pattern we need to reverse,” Holcomb said, “We need to be healthier as a state, there’s no two ways to get there.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *