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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Council affirms county health orders, bans smoking at parks

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The Indianapolis City-County Council voted to approve existing county health orders at its meeting May 10, the same day state lawmakers effectively voided all local COVID-19 restrictions.

The legislation at the Statehouse, Senate Bill 5, requires local health departments to get approval from legislative bodies and mayors to put health orders in place that are more restrictive than the state’s. Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed the bill, but state lawmakers voted to override the veto.

The veto override essentially left no local public health orders in place for a short time May 5 until the council voted to approve the Marion County Public Health Department’s restrictions, including the mask mandate.

“In a time of great uncertainty, our city’s residents can be certain of this: the Indianapolis City-County Council will remain strictly focused on safeguarding their health and doing whatever is necessary to bring our city back stronger than ever,” city-county council President Vop Osili said in a statement.

Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the county health department, said the county has tried to balance public health with the local economy during the pandemic.

“The ability to make quick decisions at a local level is critical to protecting Hoosiers during a public health crisis,” she said in a statement.

Marion County, the most populous in Indiana, has consistently had public health orders that are more stringent than the state required.

The council approved local health orders by a vote of 19-5, with Republicans opposed.

In a letter explaining his veto, Holcomb said it’s been a critical part of the state’s response to COVID-19 to let local health authorities do what they feel is best for their community. He said the bill could also “further undermine local responses to future public health emergencies.”

Smoking ban

The council also voted 18-6 to ban smoking at public parks owned or leased by the city or county.

The author, Councilor John Barth, said there has been a visible increase in secondhand smoke at parks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people went to parks for a safe activity.

“Our city’s parks have been an important refuge during the pandemic for residents seeking mental and physical wellness,” Barth said in a statement, “but secondhand smoke and litter are detrimental to the health of our children and families and our environment.”

The ban will likely go into effect before the July 4 holiday and includes fines: $100 for a first offense, and a court ticket and fine of $200 to $7,500 for subsequent violations.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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