Indiana lawmakers consider changing bill that limits COVID-19 vaccine mandates

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers held their second hours-long public input meeting Thursday on a bill that would limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

The legislation, House Bill 1001, would require private businesses that mandate the vaccine to also offer a testing option. Employers would have to cover the cost of testing.

House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne), the author of the bill, said Thursday he heard the criticism raised at the last public input meeting in November about the cost of testing to business owners and the absence of penalties for businesses that don’t comply.

Lehman added he wanted to hear from more Hoosiers on ways to improve the bill.

Dozens addressed the House committee on employment, labor and pensions Thursday.

“I don’t want to not work,” said Leia Hovious, an Indianapolis resident. “I don’t want to not be able to feed my children.”

Lehman said it’s those workers Republican lawmakers are trying to protect.

Medical experts still have concerns, with some returning to the Statehouse to testify a second time.

“Vaccine is the single most effective prevention for not getting COVID-19,” said Dr. Stephen Tharp, the Clinton County health officer who also previously served as president of the Indiana State Medical Association. “Is it perfect? No, but it’s better than the vaccines that we’ve had in the past.”

Democrats point out concerns have also been raised by the business community, arguing employers should be allowed to make their own decisions on vaccine mandates.

“I’d like to see employers off the hook for the testing, paying for the testing,” said State Rep. Ryan Hatfield (D-Evansville). “Some of these companies have estimates that it will cost $6 million.”

State Rep. Lehman said he’s looking at ways to address that concern.

“We just need to narrow that down to more the cost of the test vs. ‘Do I have to spend the day in Chicago and have mileage paid for,’ etc.,” Lehman said.

When asked about the testing expenses businesses could still face, Lehman said, “I think there are still some places around the state where you can get tests done for free. So I would encourage them find places that will work with you.”

Another change Lehman said he is considering is allowing people denied for medical or religious exemptions to receive unemployment benefits.

“Some [businesses] are saying right now if you choose not to be vaccinated, you’re leaving employment voluntarily, we’re not firing you,” Lehman said. “Yet I think it’s pretty clear if you don’t get the vaccine, we’re going to break our ties with you, that’s not voluntary.”

Dr. Tharp said he’s also concerned about the state ending the public health emergency now amid this latest COVID-19 surge

Lehman said he believes it’s still time to end the emergency, arguing the declaration involves federal funding coming to the state.

During a recent one-on-one interview, Gov. Eric Holcomb said he supports private businesses that choose to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for employees.

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