INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers heard nearly seven hours of testimony about a bill that would lift the state of emergency and hobble workplace vaccine mandates.
Until now, Indiana lawmakers have been silent on employers requiring vaccines, except when it comes to Hoosiers working for local governments. The General Assembly passed a law last year prohibiting local governments from requiring proof of vaccination for employees.
House Bill 1001 is on track to move forward, despite opposition from major groups in the medical and business community.
The bill would prevent most employers, as well as state and local government, universities and public school districts from having a vaccination mandate or must allow medical or religious exemptions. Employers would also have to allow workers the option of getting tested in lieu of the vaccine and pay for that testing.
"We need to make sure Hoosier workers are protected,” said Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne.
Lehman, the bill's sponsor, said even state-run and private hospitals will have to allow for exemptions.
The Indy Chamber, representing 2,000 business across nine counties in central Indiana also came out against the bill. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and many other business groups argued it would be costly for businesses.
“What the bill says specifically, it would be at no cost to employers. The employer has a testing requirement and you’re not going to charge the employee, so who’s going to pick up the bill? It’s the employer, right?” said Taylor Hughes, the director of strategy, policy and special projects at the Indy Chamber, which represents 2,000 businesses across nine counties in central Indiana.
Hughes said that would be an extra burden on businesses trying to rebuild after the pandemic.
He testified against the bill Thursday, saying employers need flexibility on the issue of requiring vaccines if Hoosiers want to see businesses bounce back.
“It really is about getting out of this pandemic as quickly as possible, so that we can rebuild. It’s like if we hamper our ability to respond to a pandemic that’s continuing, we can expect to be battling for much longer periods of time, maybe for years to come,” Hughes said.
The Indiana State Medical Association, the largest physician group in the state, warned against passing the bill, arguing it would disincentivize vaccination.
"This bill will prolong the pandemic,” said Dr. Stephen Tharp, a past president of the association.
The state's dashboard shows rising cases of COVID-19. Right now, 20 hospitals in Indiana have called in the National Guard to help with the increase in patients.
Still, House Bill 1001 is on track to move forward. Eight out of 13 members of the Employment, Labor and Pensions Committee are co-authors of the bill. That's every Republican member except one. A total of 56 representatives are listed as cowriters, more than half of the House of Representatives.
Lawmakers listened to testimony on this bill ahead of the start of the legislative session that begins in January. This bill is set for a first reading on the first day of session Jan. 4.
You can click here to track the bill and any revisions.