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Public health system overhaul clears Indiana House after changes

A physician's white coat, with a stethoscope visible and pens in a chest pocket.
Indiana currently ranks near the bottom of the country for the amount of money per person it spends on public health.

An overhaul of Indiana’s public health system cleared a key legislative hurdle Monday.

The House passed a bill, SB 4, that requires local health departments to provide more services if they want to receive increased funding.

Rep. Brad Barrett (R-Richmond) said the COVID-19 pandemic magnified issues in the state’s public health system.

“It only brought to light the fact that this was uncoordinated, poorly funded," Barrett said.

The measure includes about two dozen core services local departments must provide to get newly-increased funding – everything from food and sanitary inspections to child and maternal health services and preventative care for diabetes and obesity.

County government executives – and not the health departments themselves – will decide whether to receive the new funding (and thus, provide the core services) or reject the money from the state.

The new funding itself will be decided in the state budget.

READ MORE: Senate Republicans unveil state budget proposal, without any school voucher expansion

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The House made several changes to the bill on the floor. That included a provision to require local health departments to prioritize existing programs, multi-county partnerships and evidence-based practices when deciding how to spend the new money.

Rep. Becky Cash (R-Zionsville) included language to require local health departments to provide certain vaccine information – including the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System – before providing a vaccination.

"Transparency brings with it public trust in our health care system," Cash said.

Cash said those requirements already exist for physicians and pharmacists.

The bill also now creates a new legislative task force after an amendment added by Rep. Chris Jeter (R-Fishers). The group appointed by the four legislative caucus leaders will investigate the actions taken by state and local government leaders during the COVID-19.

"Before we plow another $220 million into the public health system, we owe it to our constituents to do a review of the two-year COVID emergency – what we did well, what we didn't do well, what legal authorities were properly used, which ones were improperly used, which ones, maybe, were underused," Jeter said.

Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) said he doesn't understand what House Republicans are doing.

"We all know what happened during COVID. We know the consequences," DeLaney said. "The job is improving public health, not picking on the governor's office."

The House approved the public health system bill 78-21, with the "no" votes coming from Republicans.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.