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Holcomb to extend Indiana’s health emergency; lawmakers cancel plans to reconvene Monday

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The public health emergency will be extended for another 30 days.

Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the move, the 21st extension, on Wednesday in a statement, saying:

Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire. However, following the announcement that the General Assembly will not return on Monday, Nov. 29, I plan to extend the state public health emergency and the executive order next week for another 30 days to preserve the necessary provisions. I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.

This comes after Holcomb held back support from a Republican proposal that would force businesses to grant COVID-19 vaccination requirement exemptions without questions.

The GOP proposal, which was announced Saturday, would have also blocked similar immunization rules by state universities and would have rejected an appeal by the state’s largest business organization to leave such decisions up to employers. Leaders of the legislature on have decided not to call themselves into session Monday to consider the Republican proposal; instead, lawmakers will consider the proposal when reconvening Jan. 4.

Indiana’s public health emergency has been in place since March 2020.

Prior to Holcomb’s announcement of the extension Wednesday, the health emergency was scheduled to expire on Dec. 1.

News releases

Background: Tuesday, Nov. 23, the Indiana House and Senate rules committees met for a joint hearing to discuss legislation that would provide Gov. Holcomb the previously agreed-upon tools he needs to end Indiana’s state of emergency. The draft legislation would also provide clarity and uniformity for Hoosiers and businesses with regard to COVID-19 vaccine exemptions. During the meeting, lawmakers heard seven hours of passionate testimony on the difficult issues facing hardworking Hoosiers and the Indiana business community in light of the ongoing pandemic.

“Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) made the following statement today regarding plans for the General Assembly to reconvene Nov. 29:

“STATEHOUSE (Nov. 24, 2021) – ‘Yesterday, lawmakers heard heartfelt input from employees with medical or religious objections who are being asked to choose between complying with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and losing their jobs, and testimony from employers striving to provide safe work places while navigating the imposition of an overreaching federal mandate.

“‘Two especially concerning issues raised that deserve particular attention are the reports of some employers callously disregarding or denying without due consideration the legitimate medical or religious exemption requests of employees, as well as some businesses reportedly informing employees that noncompliance will be considered a voluntary resignation, rather than a termination. If true, this last item not only forces some employees to choose between their health or religion and their job, but also completely mischaracterizes the end of the employee/employer relationship and puts the employee’s ability to claim unemployment at risk.

“‘Due to the urgency of these matters, a plan was in place to reconvene the legislature Monday, Nov. 29 to address these issues in a single day if consensus on action items existed. The ongoing complexities of the issues raised and the potential unintended consequences, the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session, and the need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation have led to the conclusion that the efforts to gather input and better solutions should continue until the legislature reconvenes in January. These matters will be taken up in earnest at the outset of the coming legislative session.’”

Indiana Senate Republicans

“INDIANAPOLIS—On Tuesday, November 23, the Joint Committee on Legislative Rules and Procedures met at the last minute to hear testimony on drafted language that would allow Hoosiers to continue receiving federal benefits. Unfortunately, this bill also would have put onerous regulations on businesses, risked our schools and universities being able to stay open and further threatened Hoosiers’ health and safety. This language was set to be voted on by the full body on Monday, November 29. After hearing concerns about the proposed language, Senate Democrats argued that the Legislature should focus on helping Hoosiers and leave the rest for deliberation once we reconvene in January.

“Today, the supermajority announced that they would be canceling session on November 29 to allow for more deliberation from Hoosiers. Senate Democratic Leader, Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis) had the following remarks:

“‘I am glad that the Republican caucuses listened to our call, and the calls of the business and healthcare communities, to give the important issue of COVID-19 vaccines the full vetting it deserves. This issue should be discussed and considered before our full Legislature, undergoing the proper legislative process, instead of unnecessarily being pushed through—which would hurt our businesses, workers, healthcare community and schools.

“‘We are legislators, not doctors, and we should not be legislating medicine. Extending the emergency declaration through December is the right decision, and I hope to have a more reasonable conversation about responsibly ending the declaration when session begins in January.

“‘This delay will allow us the necessary time to hear from the full medical community about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how it is saving lives. In the meantime, I encourage all Hoosiers to talk to their doctors about the COVID-19 vaccination and the benefits of immunization so we can come out of this pandemic as soon as possible.”

Indiana Senate Democrats news release