INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are moving forward with a bill to provide new services at local health departments.

Gov. Eric Holcomb has proposed $347 million in state funding for public health over the next two years, a significant increase from the nearly $7 million the state currently spends annually.

The proposed funding would bring Indiana closer to the national average for per-capita public health funding.

Senate Bill 4 specifies how those additional funds would be used. It was approved unanimously by the Senate Health and Provider Services committee Wednesday.

Many officials say increased public health services are greatly needed, especially in rural areas.

“We have one of the lower life expectancy rates,” said Kellie Streeter, president of the Knox County Board of Commissioners.

In Knox County, 70% of residents are on Medicaid, Streeter said, and many people do not have access to health care.

Right now, her county’s health department only has enough staff to offer bare-minimum services, like restaurant inspections, she said.

Streeter said she wants to see her county health department do more to help residents stay healthy.

“Childhood obesity and nutrition and really reaching those children early on so those adverse events are mitigated,” Streeter said.

Streeter testified in support of Senate Bill 4 Wednesday.

Under the proposal, counties would have to choose whether to opt in to the program. If they participate, some of the expanded services they would offer include free health screening tests for the public; maternal and infant health services; and hearing, vision and oral health screenings in schools.

But some Hoosiers are skeptical.

“I’m concerned overall with the bill that it would take away from home rule,” said Bradley Rogers, president of the Elkhart County Board of Commissioners.

Rogers said he’s concerned about how much of a role the state health department will play.

“I think that the state needs to fund health departments,” Rogers said. “But we’d prefer to see that in grant-by-grant basis, topic-by-topic basis.”

The bill’s author, State Sen. Ed Charbonneau (R-Valparaiso), said the legislation would not give the state control over local health departments.

He pointed out counties would not be required to participate.

“There is absolutely no connection between the state department of health and local health departments,” Charbonneau said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations committee.

The amount of funding allocated for public health is being handled in the two-year state budget, a separate bill.