ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Sustained vetoes are best outcome for bad bills

This editorial was originally published Sunday in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

Here we go again.

The ink is barely dry on lawmakers’ recent override of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill to rein in his emergency powers. Miffed that decisions during the height of the pandemic were made based on science and the advice of public health experts rather than the input of elected officials, legislators are poised Monday to make a similar mistake.

The General Assembly will return to the Statehouse, and House and Senate leaders say they’ll take up Holcomb’s veto of Senate Bill 5 – legislation that would require local public health orders tougher than those issued by the governor to go before county commissioners or city councils for approval. Holcomb vetoed the bill last week, saying he didn’t want to impede local health officials’ flexibility as Indiana continues to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

Lawmakers could reverse the governor’s decision with a simple majority vote in both chambers; Republicans who supported the bill hold a supermajority in the House and Senate.

The experts are experts for a reason, and doctors including Allen County Health Commissioner Matthew Sutter say they weigh science, economic impact and personal freedoms when considering orders such as limiting capacity at businesses and other measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are grateful for Governor Holcomb’s decision to prioritize the health and safety of all Hoosiers by vetoing this legislation,” Sutter said in an email to The Journal Gazette. “We hope our legislators will take the opportunity through this veto to step back and collaborate with local experts involved in these matters to ensure the critically important work being done through public health in our local communities and throughout the state is addressed appropriately for the good of all Indiana residents.”

Allowing elected leaders likely without education and training on public health emergencies to second-guess professionals with the skills necessary to combat those problems is dangerous.

Legislators should let the veto stand.

In April, lawmakers upset they weren’t able to debate pandemic executive orders overrode Holcomb’s veto of a bill that allows the General Assembly to call itself into session during such emergencies. The governor argues that is unconstitutional, and the issue is now part of a lawsuit in Marion County.

Senate Bill 5 isn’t the only veto that could be taken up Monday.

The second bill, Senate Bill 303, is one supported by the oil industry and opposed by Indiana farmers. It would require gas stations to place a warning label on every pump that dispenses E15 fuel, made up of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Holcomb rightly noted the requirement was duplicative because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already mandates the labels.

That information was enough for one of the bill’s authors, Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago. He said he supports Holcomb’s veto if the governor believes there is sufficient notification.

But Sen. Andy Zay, a Huntington Republican and another co-author, told the Indianapolis Star the veto was unfortunate because the issue could have been addressed with a “simple amendment.”

His complaint over the governor’s “lack of engagement” on the bill seems like a poor reason to override the veto.

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