INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana lawmakers are considering a proposal that would limit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by employers.
It’s part of a preliminary draft of potential legislation that brings Indiana a step closer to ending the state’s public health emergency.
Republican legislative leaders unveiled the proposal Saturday. It has not been filed as a bill yet.
Still, it could be passed by the legislature as soon as Monday.
“That balance we have now between the business’s right and the individual’s right come to what you see in this bill,” said House Majority Leader Matt Lehman (R-Berne).
The proposal does not ban vaccine mandates by employers, but it requires them to offer workers a weekly testing option in lieu of getting vaccinated.
Under the proposal, employers would cover the cost of testing, not the employees. And an employee who complies with weekly testing cannot be reprimanded.
“I know people have said, ‘Well we’re coming back in January, it can wait ’til January,'” Lehman said. “I’m telling you right now, I have people that are saying, ‘I’m on the chopping block.'”
The proposal and the process are facing criticism by multiple leaders in the business community.
During the public comment portion of Monday’s joint meeting of the Indiana Senate and House rules committees, several business leaders raised concerns about the proposal, noting the cost of testing to employers.
“It significantly discourages employers from requiring vaccinations,” said Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic lawmakers questioned the process. Republican legislative leaders are calling the entire legislature back for a one-day session Monday to consider the proposal. That means the preliminary draft could become law in less than a week, following a holiday weekend.
“I’m quite frankly concerned about why are we straying from the usual process that we engage in?” said State Sen. Tim Lanane (D-Muncie).
Gov. Eric Holcomb announced last week he would end the public health emergency if the legislature met three conditions, including keeping federal benefits for SNAP and Medicaid programs and allowing the state health commissioner to permit pharmacists to provide the COVID vaccine to children ages 5 to 11.
While speaking with reporters Monday, Holcomb did not express support or opposition to the current proposal.
“It means that this is part of the process,” Holcomb said. “It means that this is the very beginning of the process. I understand this is atypical because it’s such an accelerated process.”
Some medical experts at Monday’s meeting expressed concerns about ending the public health emergency now since COVID-19 cases are back on the rise in Indiana. If it is not extended, the emergency is set to expire December 1.
Other doctors raised concerns about a provision in the proposal that would expand medical exemptions to allow pregnant women or women who may become pregnant to opt out of any COVID vaccine mandate.
The preliminary draft of the legislation also specifically includes public universities in Indiana’s vaccine passport ban on state government entities.