Does Indiana’s new vaccine passport law apply to public universities?

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

Jane Ellen Norman, 12, holds vaccination cards for her and her 14-year-old brother Owen outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The two were vaccinated Tuesday morning, after U.S. regulators expanded use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shot to those as young as 12. (AP Photo/Angie Wang)

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s ban on government-issued COVID-19 vaccine passports has some questioning whether it applies to state universities.

The language in HEA 1405 passed in the final moments of session and didn’t get a lot of discussion.

According to the new law, Indiana state and local government units cannot create or mandate a vaccination card or passport.

“A local unit is a city or a town or a county,” said Ross Silverman, a health policy professor with the Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health.

So, is a public education institution like Indiana University a government unit? Silverman argues the law says no.

“Under Indiana law, Indiana University is defined as a state educational institution. That’s its formal terminology. It’s not considered a state agency, it’s not considered local government,” explained Silverman.

He went on to say that when lawmakers want universities to be included in a law, they almost always specify in the statute.

State Rep. Chris Campbell was a co-author on the vaccine passport ban legislation. She said they purposefully left colleges out of it, and she even doubled checked.

“I had Purdue look at it because I did have that concern,” said Rep. Campbell. “They did not have concerns at that point, so I don’t believe it applies in that case.”

This means IU is free to require the COVID-19 vaccine and passports to prove students and staff got their shot. Other schools and businesses can too if they want.

“That should be left to those individual locations because they know their situations, and they know what they need in their environment to keep others safe,” said Rep. Campbell.

Not all lawmakers feel that way. State Rep. John Jacob declined an interview but shared a letter he sent to Indiana University along with State Rep. Curt Nisly.

Dear President McRobbie and Ms. Simmons,

It has come to my attention and Representative Curt Nisly that Indiana University (IU) is mandating COVID ‘vaccinations’ for its staff, faculty, and students. Is that correct? If so, in light of the recent legislation that was passed by the Indiana legislature banning vaccination passports by government and that IU is a state government school could you please explain the legal basis by which IU is making that mandatory?

Also, how can IU mandate something that is not formally approved for actual use, as the COVID ‘vaccine’ is an Experimental Use Authorization (EUA)? In addition, is IU willing to accept all responsibility for those hurt by taking the COVID ‘vaccine’ as there are many people that have died and had very adverse reactions to the COVID shot? In light of the recent legislation, I would hope that IU retracts it’s requirement for mandatory vaccination by staff, faculty, and students.

State Rep. John Jacob (R) District 93 and State Rep. Curt Nisly (R) District 22

Silverman is confident IU’s actions are legal

“The vaccine is on the one hand a personal health issue, but it’s also a community health intervention,” said Silverman.

Courts could end up determining the legality of this if a lawsuit is filed in the future.

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